Ministers’ vehicles: A scandal that will not die
Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker Sir
“Some of us have now developed an insatiable appetite to spend money that we don’t have,” are words attributed to the late national hero and Masvingo South legislator Cde Eddison Zvobgo. Temba Mliswa is another outspoken MP of our generation, especially on issues to do with Government priorities and expenditure.
Never mind his own shortcomings when it comes to integrity and dignity if one is to consider his shenanigans with Billy Rautenbach. Mliswa made profound remarks on the need for Government to get its priorities and expenditure right.
“Before the Finance Minister looks for money, he must cut down on Government expenditure because there is a lot of money that can come from there,” said Mliswa at Chinhoyi Press Club last month.
“All the Mercedes-Benz and Range Rovers around . . . We cannot talk of rebuilding the country if the bulk of the money we are generating is directed towards luxury things like cars.
“The Finance Minister should go in a Mazda 626 if need be until such a time when we can afford taking our children to school on a plane. But it takes savings on our part.”
He is also said to be one of the two MPs, together with his Gokwe-Nembudziya counterpart Justice Mayor Wadyajena, who refused to take cars under the Parliamentary Vehicle Loan Scheme, arguing that there were more pressing issues that needed to be prioritised.
Yes, some people dismissed this gesture as grandstanding but surely the electorate will applaud given the fact that they have for a long time seen their representatives rolling in flashy cars while they wallow in poverty.
The justification by ministers and legislators for having top-of-the-range vehicles has always been ironic as it disregards the electorate.
They say they want those kinds of vehicles because of the poor state of roads in their constituencies.
But do our representatives find comfort in arriving at constituency meetings in flashy cars when the people who voted them into power cannot afford a proper meal?
Do they expect the same people to feed from the dust when these big vehicles take off after the meetings?
It is a fact that Zimbabwe is facing financial constraints resulting in Government failing to meet some of its obligations to resuscitate the economy.
Civil servants feel they are paid peanuts, the manufacturing sector is screaming for bailout and ordinary citizens can only be nostalgic for the time when they could afford three meals a day.
University students who were under the cadetship scheme have gone for years without graduating and getting their certificates because Treasury has not fulfilled its commitment.
Thousands of graduates churned out of institutions of higher and tertiary education every year have become loafers while the majority have turned to “teaching” just to make ends meet mainly because they cannot be absorbed into formal employment for which they trained.
Farmers, on the other hand, long for a season when they will be able to harvest good yields because there is no electricity due to load-shedding.
Shamefully, in the face of all these pressing demands, purchasing vehicles for ministers and MPs tops Government’s priority list.
By virtue of being a democracy, Zimbabwe has held regular elections after every five years since Independence with incoming office bearers from ministers to legislators all entitled to vehicles.
Even the returning ones are entitled to new deliveries.
Mr Speaker Sir, there is certainly nothing wrong with MPs getting cars under a loan scheme because in essence they pay for the vehicles.
But the bone of contention is why the appetite for expensive cars for the executive when the same cars are sold to the same people for close to nothing as they get them at book value?
It is understood that as it stands, ministers each get a Range Rover SUV, Mercedes-Benz E Class and double cab while their deputies get a Discovery 4 or Prado as well as a double cab.
Surely, why should taxpayers’ money be used to buy such high cost luxuries?
These kinds of vehicles are expensive to maintain besides being fuel guzzlers.
Moreso, why should ministers who have been retained get new vehicles when they can drive the ones they were using before?
Mr Speaker Sir, there is need to do away with the culture of selling Government vehicles to outgoing ministers, at book price for that matter.
Surely, five years is not such a long period that mileage on these vehicles would be in tens of thousands of kilometres given the fact that most of the ministers’ official business is in Harare.
Government should at most buy new vehicles for ministers after at least two terms (10 years) and the old ones should be sold at market price if we are not to repeat the Willowgate scandal.
What stops long-serving ministers from cashing in on these vehicles after buying them at book price, especially the Mercedes-Benz which are unlikely to have hit more than 100 000km given the fact that they are sometimes only used for official business in Harare if not parked at home?
Besides, what is the rationale of giving three vehicles to an individual when they can do whatever they want with one?
A vehicle should be able to take one from point A to point B and if a double cab can do it why have a Range Rover as well?
If ministers in Malaysia – one of the leading emerging economies in Asia – can do with locally assembled low-cost Proton vehicles, are our own ministers allergic to low-cost vehicles?
Why not capacitate Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries to produce compatible low-cost vehicles that can be used as official Government vehicles?
Government is not a profit-making entity, as such it boggles the mind why ministers would want to show off in expensive vehicles as if they earned them.
What is ironic is that the executive ordered bosses at State institutions to buy vehicles from local assemblers yet they continue to import.
The executive should lead by example by being the first to do away with high-cost imported vehicles so that management at State institutions can emulate them.
As it stands, the order has not been adhered to as bosses at parastatals and State institutions continue to roll in Mercedes-Benz, Range Rovers and Discovery just like their bosses.
Let’s face it, we are living on a borrowed currency which is very expensive so we cannot afford to spend millions of dollars on such luxuries when the majority cannot afford basics.
In light of the economic crisis we are facing and the fact that the majority of Zimbabweans cannot access basics such as water, food and shelter, there is serious need to revisit our priorities.
Who knows, Zimbabwe could be one of the leading countries whose ministers drive expensive cars despite the fact that the economy has not yet recovered.
Maybe if ministers from America, Britain or other developed country visited Zimbabwe one day and see the kind of vehicles our ministers drive, they would be envious and shocked as to how our economy can afford that.
Government spending on vehicles for ministers and MPs is a scandal that will not die, at least not in the foreseeable future.
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