Zimbabwe: Legislators On Spending Spree

THE country's legislators spent huge sums of money at a three-day pre-budget conference held in Victoria Falls over the weekend, undermining Finance Minister Tendai Biti's "we eat what we kill policy".

The Financial Gazette can reveal that more than 300 legislators from the Senate and House of Assembly were encamped at the classy Elephant Hills Hotel and Kingdom Hotel for three days at the expense of Treasury and Parliament as they gathered to give input into next year's budget in the scenic resort town, a tradition they have followed in the past three years.

The junket is estimated to have cost close to half a millon dollars inclusive of accomodation,transport and allo-wances for the legislators, Ministry of Finance officials, support staff from Parliament and a number of media personnel.

The organisers chartered return flights from Harare to Victoria Falls as well as providing fuel for Members of Parliament and other delegates who drove to the venue.

Officials were at hand to dole out fuel coupons to delegates as reimbursement for travelling to Victoria Falls, which is about 450 kilometres from the second capital, Bulawayo.

Air Zimbabwe charges US$48 000 to charter a Boeing 737 aircraft to Victoria Falls which has a capacity of carrying 103 passengers, meaning that two flights could have been hired for the more than 200 legislators and other officials who flew to the venue, thus doubling the costs to US$96 000.

According to confidential sources that were part of the junket, legislators from Bulawayo, Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South were provided with fuel to drive themselves to and from the Victoria Falls.

Added to that, all legislators got US$25 each for dinner per day for the three days. It is not clear whether they received out of pocket allowances or money for incidentals as is usually the norm with government workshops, conferences and seminars.

Government critics said it would have been financially prudent for the pre-budget seminar to be held in Harare where hotel accommodation rates are reasonable, going at less than US$190 per room. The government would have saved tremendously on transport, particularly chartering flights to the resort town.

But contacted for comment, Eric Matinenga, the Minister for Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, said his ministry was not responsible for making the decision on where Parliament held its pre-budget meeting. Matinenga, however, defended the decision to meet outside Harare saying it was meant to avoid disturbances and other unnecessary disruptions.

"When one looks at the issue of cost, Parliament will not be looking at the dollar issue but other factors such as considering where members do not get interference from other sectors during discussions, but you must talk to Parliament's administration," he said.

Clerk of Parliament, Austin Zvoma (pictured), could not immediately comment yesterday, as he did not pick-up his mobile phone. Other officials in the august house were reluctant to talk about the issue.

Critics have questioned the wisdom of spending thousands of greenbacks in the resort town of Victoria Falls when meetings could still be held in Harare to cut costs of travel and accommodation every time a pre-budget seminar is held, especially after the demands by some legislators in Victoria Falls for an exit package as "there is no guarantee that some of us will be reelected next year".

Critics argue that these are the same parliamentarians who in the last four years have demanded so much from a country with a kneeling macro economy.

Previously, legislators hired out their vehicles to the COPAC outreach process and demanded huge payments for it and also received "back pay" of some US$15000 in January as seating allowances.

This year alone, they have also demanded low density residential stands in Harare as well as new all terrain vehicles yet have hardly fulfilled their legislative agenda, drawing criticism that this has been the worst Parliament ever.

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