27 January 2012

Zimbabwe: Members of Parliament Refuse to Repay Car Loans Despite Windfall

Legislators insist they will not use the US$15 000 windfall they recently received from Treasury to offset their car loans.

The money constituted their outstanding sitting allowances.

Last year, the Parliamentarians proposed that Treasury use their allowances to liquidate their vehicle loans, but the allowances ended up being deposited into their accounts early this month.

Investigations by The Herald showed that the lawmakers might not even pay back the money because the responsible authorities are not reclaiming the money.

About 250 MPs were given US$30 000 each to buy vehicles in 2009, but did not sign any contract forms with Treasury.

The legislators argue that they are being paid too little to repay the loans taking advantage of the fact that they did not sign any forms with repayment terms.

Secretary for Finance Mr Willard Manungo said it was Parliament's responsibility to recover the money while Parliament administration argues it was never involved in the transactions.

Mr Manungo said there was a vehicle revolving fund that was managed through Parliament.

"The aspect of loans, it will be natural that the MPs meet their obligation of paying back through a Parliamentary Vehicle Loan Scheme and that scheme has been there for a long time," Mr Manungo said.

"Parliament should recover the money, it is their responsibility. It's not a new thing that Parliament manages the loans because they know that MPs got the loans."

He said it was up to Parliament administration to ensure the money was recovered.

Clerk of Parliament Mr Austin Zvoma distanced Parliament from the scheme, saying it was the responsibility of the issuing authority to recover the money.

"We have never been involved in this, they (Treasury) are the ones who gave them the loans so they should recover it themselves.

"We don't even know the terms at which those loans were given," Mr Zvoma said.

Former Attorney-General Mr Sobusa Gula-Ndebele said Treasury should recover the money from the legislators even if they did not sign the forms.

"In Zimbabwe, a contract doesn't have to be written and the fact that you realise you are not paid enough doesn't take away your obligations," Mr Gula-Ndebele said.

"What can happen is that if they were given the loan but without indication of when it was supposed to be paid back, those who are owed can put them in mora, (making a demand of when the money should be paid, failure to which, legal processes can be started.)"

Parliamentarians' Welfare Committee chairperson Cde Paddy Zhanda (Zanu-PF Goromonzi North) yesterday said: "There is need for us to sit down and balance things first because there are a lot of things that need to be balanced."

He said he was not aware that MPs were supposed to repay the loans from their allowances.

His deputy Mr Ward Nezi (MDC-T Murehwa West) said administration will do what is appropriate.

It is understood that the flat US$15 000 legislators got was almost half of what other MPs are entitled to.

Sources who attended some of the negotiations between Treasury and the legislators said MPs had made it clear to Treasury that they would not pay.

"Staff from Treasury were told that until such a time when legislators are paid reasonably, that is only when legislators will pay for those vehicles," a source said.

"This US$15 000 is for allowances for three years, meaning that one is getting US$5 000 per year and with such a figure what can one buy?"

Another source said, the windfall had not "been felt" because of debts.

"That money just passed through MPs' hands because they had to repay their debts.

"There was talk that Treasury would just take the US$15 000 as part of repayment but they could not do that because the MPs did not sign any contracts when they got the vehicles meaning that there were no payment plans," said the source.

Most legislators argued that they could not pay for vehicles they used for Government business.

"We used those vehicles at Copac and most of them were non runners when we came back. Why should we pay Government for using the vehicles in their business and besides we are getting peanuts as allowances and wages.

"Imagine an MP being paid US$750 per month and US$75 as allowance for travelling over 600km to do Parliamentary business? This is ridiculous," said a source.

Being an MP is, however, not a full time job.

Some legislators have threatened to attend Parliament in overalls saying they could not afford formal clothes.

They argue that their colleagues in the region are being paid over US$10 000.

Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga recently threw his weight behind the legislators saying their allowances and salaries were insufficient to buy vehicles.

He said there was need for the new Constitution to create a Parliamentary Commission responsible for the welfare of legislators.

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