30 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Treasury Writes Off U.S.$9 Million MPs Owe

Treasury has written off US$9 million it gave to parliamentarians under a vehicles loan facility in 2009. About 300 legislators got US$30 000 each under the facility, which was supposed to be a revolving fund. It also emerged that Treasury awarded bonuses to legislators last year, yet they are not civil servants. In 2010, the lawmakers said they wanted their sitting allowances to liquidate the car loans, but Treasury in December last year deposited a flat US$15 000 in all legislators' accounts.

This was despite the fact that some of the lawmakers were not entitled to the allowances, particularly some ministers. Government has continued paying them sitting allowances monthly up to date.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti revealed this in the House of Assembly on Tuesday while responding to legislators' queries on why Treasury took long to clear their sitting allowances since 2008.

"On the issue of your sitting allowances, we know about those things. As Minister of Finance, I think you honourable members, with due respect, should appreciate what we have done for you.

"We wrote off the US$30 000 loan for the motor vehicles even though the law says you must pay (back). Last year we gave you that bonus, which I shall not mention, otherwise it will be written in the papers.

"We have done a lot of things for you because we really understand your plight. On these issues we really understand your plight."

Minister Biti was also responding to threats by legislators that they would not repay the loans as long as their sitting allowances were not cleared. However, parliamentarians' welfare committee chairperson Cde Paddy Zhanda (Zanu-PF) said there was nothing to celebrate about.

"There was no such thing as car loans because this was in exchange of what they owed us. We are owed more than what we have been given. Besides, why should we buy vehicles on behalf of Government for Government business, yet ministers have bought themselves several cars, including ministry vehicles?"

He said it did not matter that before the inclusive Government, legislators repaid car loans under the revolving fund.

When the legislators were given the loans, they did not sign contract forms with Treasury. They refused to have their sitting allowances liquidate the loans, arguing that they were being paid too little.

The lawmakers also argued that their vehicles were damaged during the Constitution outreach programme. However, during the outreach, they were paid US$80 daily for about 100 days. Before the formation of the inclusive Government, Parliament administration managed the revolving fund and legislators would repay the loans. But, after the formation of the inclusive Government, Treasury bypassed Parliament administration and dished out the loans directly to Members of Parliament.

Last December, Treasury deposited US$15 000 into all legislators' accounts, a boob which cost the Government over US$1 million. Expelled and deceased legislators also got the US$15 000 perks, though some legislators were entitled to as little as US$375, while ministers were not entitled to the perks at all. Lawmakers get US$75 per day for attending parliamentary business and about US$700 monthly. They are still being paid their outstanding allowances.

They argue that they are the least paid legislators in the region.

MPs from three parties represented in Parliament recently resolved to approach financial institutions seeking a US$8,52 million loan facility to import new vehicles duty free.

There are 84 senators and 199 members of the Lower House with each seeking US$30 000 loans each.

The legislators want banks to assist them acquire new vehicles to replace the ones they claim are either accident damaged or unroadworthy. If the deal sails through, some legislators will end up having three vehicles each after receiving Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe cars and those bought by Treasury.

Interestingly, the current Parliament is expected to end early next year, while most banks are offering 24-month loans.

The parliamentary welfare committee said the vehicle facility was an initiative that did not involve Parliament or Government.

Some legislators recently said they wanted exit packages before the harmonised polls scheduled for early next year.

However, President Mugabe has scoffed at the demands saying they should go and face the people in elections if they wanted more benefits.

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