THE government's appetite to spend more on luxury vehicles and foreign travel than service delivery has been further exposed after the cash-strapped Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) recently splurged over US$7,5 million in acquisition of over 60 luxury vehicles for personal use by to senior officers.
The police purchase of cars overshot by three times the department's 2012 budget of US$2,6 million set for cars in the Blue Book.
As if taking a cue from cabinet ministers, the force recently purchased the 2012 models of top of the range vehicles like the BMW 328i series saloon cars, Range Rover Sports, Nissan Navara LE double cabs to latest Ford Ranger LXT and double cab Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for senior officers.
The delivery of vehicles comes hard on the heels of cabinet's outrageous splash of over US$20 million for the purchase of Mercedes Benz E280s for ministers, Land Rover Discovery 4 TDis for deputy ministers, and Jeep Cherokees and Range Rovers for permanent secretaries late last year.
Other senior civil servants like principal directors and directors now drive the latest Isuzu KB300Dtec double cabs while parliamentarians have received either Isuzu 300Dtec or Mazda BT50 double cabs.
The police took delivery of the vehicles in the last six weeks but the cars have remained out of the public eye since they are unmarked and have no registration plates.
The Zimbabwe Independent saw the new fleet parked at the designated senior officers' parking bays at Police General Headquarters in Harare.
Sources revealed that the saloon cars and SUVs were bought for senior officers from the rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) to Commissioners and the Commissioner-General.
"The police force recently acquired the fleet of vehicles for about 30 senior officers," said one source. "The figure takes into consideration that there are two SACs in each administrative province and the others are at the Criminal Investigations' Department, Police Protection Unit, Traffic, Border Control and the remainder at the commissioner's pool."
Research showed that a BMW costs about US$35 795, Ford Ranger XLT 3.2 diesel double cab US$53 390 and the Nissan Navara LE 3.0dCi V6 R533 000.
However, local car dealers are selling the BMW 328i for US$98 000 while the SUVs go for anything between US$70 000 and US$90 000, including duty and other taxes.
The cars have leather seats, hi-fi stereos and come with Internet connectivity, among other specifications.
Chief police spokesman Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed purchase of the vehicles saying they were acquired as part of conditions of service for senior staff.
"There is nothing sinister since it's not the police who decides what makes or models to buy but the Police Service Commission in conjunction with the Public Service Commission," said Bvudzijena.
He said the acquisitions were not limited to the police but officers of similar rank in the military, Central Intelligence Organisation and Prison Services.
In addition to these acquisitions, the force has also bought Ford RangerXLT single cabs for Chief Superintendents at district levels.
Bvudzijena declined to identify the source of funds, but it is widely believed that it is money collected from traffic fines or diamond proceeds.
"It's government money but I am not at liberty to disclose the real source but it is still government money," Bvudzijena said.
Last month, Home Affairs permanent secretary Melusi Matshiya told parliament that police were depending on money from traffic fines since they were getting very little from treasury. Police are also involved in diamond mining.
Transport minister Nicholas Goche was not immediately available to comment on how much the state had spent in the acquisition of vehicles.
Government has faced fierce criticism from civil servants who for have been calling for a review of their salaries and working conditions in vain.
Last year the government only reviewed upwards the civil servants' transport and housing allowance. Finance minister Tendai Biti is on record saying salaries will only be reviewed if diamond revenues started coming to Treasury. Government is currently spending nearly two-thirds of its revenue on recurrent expenditure leaving very little for capital projects.
Biti told parliament in April during the first quarter budget performance review that most ministries had overspent more than their annual transport and subsistence allowance within the first three months.
Biti's calls for ministries to live within their means have largely gone unheeded as the opulence of senior civil servants and VIP travels continues to overshadow service delivery.