WASHINGTON DC —
The Zimbabwe government is failing to pay 355 legislators travel and sitting allowances at least two months after the lawmakers were sworn-in following the disputed resounding victory of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party in the July 31st general elections.
This comes at a time when the government still owes lawmakers in the last parliament up to $25,000 each as it failed to pay them similar allowances. Some of those who fell by the wayside in the general polls, expect to be paid as soon as possible as they are now struggling to make ends.
Apart from outstanding fuel and sitting allowances, Parliament of Zimbabwe is yet to pay hotel bills estimated at $750,000 for the seventh parliament.
Indications are that this money won’t be paid any time soon with reports that the country missed its third quarter revenue collection target of $905 million.
Parliamentarian Innocent Gonese, chief whip of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, says some lawmakers have to borrow money to attend legislative business, especially when they have not received their monthly salaries and responsibility allowances of over $1,600.
“The fuel coupons are also not being paid so MPs will have to borrow money … They have to scrounge around so if you have not been paid you somehow have to get to parliament but the long and short of it is that we are not getting those allowances,” says the MDC-T lawmaker.
Gonese says this money is not enough to cover constituency activities of parliamentarians. As a result, he says they need to be paid the sitting allowance of $75 per parliamentary session which they last received before the elections.
“We don’t have much of a choice. We are almost like between a rock and a hard place. You cannot abdicate your responsibilities so you find yourself in a very difficult position whereby you cannot simply say I am now staying at home because the people who elected you expect you to be articulating their views and expect you to be attending to the business of legislation and oversight,” says Gonese.
Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma says Treasury does not have money to pay travel and sitting allowances for current and former members of parliament. He hopes the situation will improve soon to cater for their needs though not giving a time-frame.
Former parliamentarians are in a fix as some of them, who have no formal employment, are now facing serious financial problems.
Cleopas Machacha, who was the Member of Parliament for Kariba and worked in the hospitality industry before he became MP in 2008, says he is struggling to make ends meet.
“Life is very tough when one is not working. If you do not have money, you face some problems because children need a lot of support from parents. So, we are in a terrible situation right now,” says Machacha.
The 54-year old father of five school-going children is owed more than $20,000 in fuel and sitting allowances. He desperately wants the money to support his family.
“When we ask parliament we are told that the government does not have money to pay us. They have promised to pay the money but have not yet set a date or month for these payments,” he says.
Former MDC-T Nyanga South lawmaker, Willard Manyawo Chimbetete, a father of 8 – two doctors, a hospital matron, an accountant and other well educated children – says life is now tough though he is getting support from his children.
“I don’t have any source of income at the moment. Life is very tough. I am looking forward to receiving my outstanding allowances from parliament. Right now I am in trouble because I do not have a pension … nothing,” says Chimbetete.
Parliament owes the former Nyanga South lawmaker more than $25,000 in outstanding allowances. The former businessman and worker at Salisbury Paper, does not want to beg from his kids.
“You know I cannot entirely depend on my children because they have their own families to look after. This afternoon I phoned one of them asking him to send me $10 for mobile phone units. This is not good at all,” says the former parliamentarian, who also once operated his own solar power business.
These two former lawmakers are not alone in this predicament as former Gwanda North lawmaker, Thandeko Zinti Mnkandla, says he is also surviving by the grace of God.
“The world of unemployment is really tough. I can’t tell you how my family is surviving but at least I know that we have not slept on empty stomachs,” says the former university lecturer and ex-Gwanda mayor.
But Lenet Karenyi, who represented Chimanimani West under the MDC-T ticket in the last parliament, says she is moving on with her life even if parliament owes her large sums of money.
“I am currently living freely. I can now oversee my family and run my business unlike the time when I was in parliament as I spent most of my time attending parliamentary business. It was disturbing me in terms of family and business issues and taking into account the salary I was getting. I used to literally subsidize the government as I was not getting travel and sitting allowances,” says Karenyi.
Treasury appears to be pinning its hopes on getting significant income from the sale of diamonds in Marange fields, Manicaland province, though little money has been trickling in from the gems to boost state coffers.
Zanu-PF appears to be optimistic that it will turn around the country’s economy through its new economic blue print – the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-economic Transformation - meant to generate millions of jobs, increase industrial production and stabilize the economy.