15 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Politics Route to Self-Aggrandisement

THE current stampede by local politicians to represent their parties as candidates in the next crucial elections expected later this year further shows they view political office, not as a means to serve the public, but a route towards business and wealth accumulation, analysts say.

While politicians claim this is democracy at work, the conduct of ministers and MPs during the inclusive government demonstrates they are more concerned with self-aggrandisement than service delivery.

As reported in this paper last week, ministers from the three main parties in the coalition government are demanding exit packages consisting of houses in leafy suburbs, residential stands and top-of-the-range vehicles which they want delivered before the Government of National Unity (GNU)'s tenure ends in June.

Analysts say it is the realisation that political office offers huge material benefits which has triggered the ongoing mad rush across parties by officials who want to contest primary polls and feature as candidates in the general elections.

Development specialist Maxwell Saungweme said the demand of houses, cars and stands by ministers has created the ongoing jostling by senior party officials to stand as candidates in the next elections. He also said ministers' requests were outrageous given their monumental failures in service delivery.

"After presiding over the collapse of the education and other social service sectors in the country, and squandering millions in dubious processes like the constitutional review exercise, these politicians want to get pensions in the form of houses and cars for the disservice they have rendered to the nation," Saungweme said.

Long-suffering Zimbabweans' initial relief at the formation of the unity government comprising erstwhile rivals, Zanu PF and the two MDC formations with expectations of a new start was short-lived as hope soon turned into despair when the three parties conspired to establish a bloated cabinet with 44 ministers, including the Attorney General who is ex-officio.

This was exacerbated by the appointment of a further 10 governors and 19 deputy ministers who enjoy ministerial perks although they do not sit in cabinet or act as ministers when the incumbents are away.

Each of the ministers received two personal vehicles in 2009 upon assuming office and they got a new fleet in 2011, which included Land Rover Discoveries, latest Mercedes Benz E-class, Jeep Cherokees, Toyota SUVs and Isuzu KB320 D-techs, among other brands.

However, Education minister David Coltart broke ranks with colleagues when he turned down some of the executive perks on moral grounds. He said it was untenable to squander so much money of cars while learning institutions received paltry funding.

Finance minister Tendai Biti has complained about VIP's endless foreign trips, which gobble millions of dollars, with very little to show for the globetrotting.

These benefits were also extended to MPs and councillors at local authorities. MPs and councillors also received perks that among other things included off-road Isuzu and Toyota bakkies.

Their luxury is partly sustained by punitive taxation of the few operating corporates and the estimated 10% of Zimbabweans still in the taxable bracket of formal employment.

Analysts say politicians' benefits and demands are not matched by service delivery which in cases continues to deteriorate. Most residents in urban areas often go without access to clean drinking water for longer periods, hospitals remain inadequately staffed and under-equipped, and power cuts continue, among other things.

To compound matters, the public transport system remains shambolic while many roads are badly potholed.

As a result analysts say ministers' demands are "criminal" considering government is broke and people are overtaxed.

"If it is indeed true that ministers are demanding exit packages then they are shameless and self-centred," political analyst Charles Mangongera said. "Ministers are not executives of blue-chip firms who must get golden handshakes when they leave office. They are public servants who must be driven by national interest, not personal gain and must therefore always exercise frugality in their use of national resources."

Political commentator Blessing Vava, who is also National Constitutional Assembly taskforce member, said ministers were greedy and insensitive.

"It goes to show the greed and insensitivity of our political leaders," said Vava. "Theirs is the politics of their bellies rather than serving the nation. Asking for exit packages from where and what for? Did they apply for those jobs or it was voluntary? They should not expect any packages above what they got already, which is too much anyway."

Former student leader Clever Bere questioned the calibre of Zimbabwean politicians, saying it is time the electorate looked for alternatives if the country is to move forward. "It is incumbent upon the people to organise themselves and campaign against this sort of abuse of power and wasteful management of public affairs," Bere said. "We cannot keep quiet while politicians loot state coffers at the expense of important and what should be priority national projects which are being sacrificed due to lack of funding, while ministers abuse public funds to maintain lavish and extravagant lifestyles they can't afford."

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