HARARE – As Treasury prepares to splurge millions of scarce United States dollars on luxury utility vehicles (SUVs) for legislators serving in the ninth Parliament, MDC representatives and their leader Nelson Chamisa, are in a quandary as to what to do — after their Zanu PF counterparts recently decided not to take up the vehicles.
The surprising move by Zanu PF legislators not to accept the cars followed a huge public outcry over the sickening hypocrisy of the country’s political leaders who have called on long-suffering Zimbabweans to make tough economic sacrifices in the long-term interest of the nation — without leading by example. It also came after the government had deferred buying the MPs and Senators vehicles in September last year, after the country was hit by a deadly cholera outbreak which killed dozens and left hundreds others requiring treatment.
The “political stunt” by Zanu PF MPs, who had last year joined their MDC counterparts in remonstrating against the temporary suspension of their vehicle purchases, has now left the country’s main opposition at sixes and sevens — as its leaders have come under pressure to explain whether the party’s MPs will accept their car allocations. The issue has become an even hotter potato for Chamisa and his followers in the past few weeks, in the light of Zimbabwe’s worsening economic rot, as well as the MDC’s justified shellacking of the government for its sorry stewardship thus far of the country’s affairs — including corruption, mismanagement and the wasting of resources on luxuries and trinkets, instead of improving people’s lives.
MDC chief whip, Prosper Mutseyami, was evasive when he was contacted by the Daily News about the issue yesterday — choosing to rather focus on the plight of civil servants. He said “As a party, we need all the civil servants to get what they are supposed to get … the staff of Parliament to also get what they are supposed to get. “We are appreciating all the good things and sacrifices they are doing for this country. As a party, we appreciate that the staff of Parliament are doing well,” he said.
However, the party’s spokesperson Jacob Mafume said the party’s MPs would not get luxury vehicles as this would not be “consistent with the functions of legislators”. “We are not going to take the luxury vehicles. We are only going to take vehicles that are suitable for the purpose of being an MP,” Mafume told the Daily News.
On Monday, Zanu PF MPs made the surprising decision of forgoing their luxury Toyota Land Cruisers, saying doing so “would be immoral” under the country’s current economic circumstances. “To play our part, however, small or little, we are ready to forgo the luxury vehicles that come with our parliamentary positions as we are representatives of less-privileged people whose only access to health is public hospitals. “We, as an arm of government and also as the ruling party are ready to lead by example and make sure we put our hands together in order to rebuild Zimbabwe,” Zanu PF chief whip Pupurai Togarepi said.
In December last year, MPs from both the MDC and Zanu PF arm-twisted under-pressure Finance minister Mthuli Ncube into agreeing to their demands for luxury cars — making this a part of their conditions to pass Ncube’s much-criticised national budget. Initially, the government had been considering acquiring Toyota Hilux double cabs and Isuzu twincabs for the MPs, but the legislators demanded Toyota Land Cruisers that are valued between US$60 000 and US$180 000 each.
The National Assembly consists of 270 MPs, while the Senate comprises 80 senators — making a staggering total of 350 legislators all in all. During the eighth Parliament, lawmakers were mostly given Ford Rangers valued at about US$35 000 each, with those requiring vehicles valued above that having to top up with their own funds.
Yesterday, some political analysts accused the MDC of lacking both political and moral “intelligence” — for failing to take a firm stand on the issue of the luxury cars. Piers Pigou, a senior consultant with the Crisis International Group, said the public would have expected MDC MPs to have been the first ones to decline the vehicles. “The MDC should have taken the lead on this. Their failure to do so has exposed them to criticism that they are in essence no different from their Zanu PF counterparts,” he said.
However, another political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the Zanu PF MPs were in a position to decline the luxury cars because they had received off-roaders in the run-up to last year’s July 30 national elections. “I think it’s cheap politicking by Zanu PF as we know that their parliamentary candidates received offroad twin cabs from the party during the election period. “The vehicle scheme are also loans that MPs have to pay back from their salaries. Instead of politicking about this matter, what we need are concrete measures on how government can cut back on its expenditure, not so much focus on MPs vehicles, which they will pay for anyway. “Since the MDC MPs will pay back the cars, they should take them. They should not react to Zanu PF’s actions,” Mukundu told the Daily News.
Critics have previously urged the government to shun imports when acquiring vehicles for public servants, to preserve the little foreign currency that is in the banking system. Some have even suggested that the government should purchase its vehicles from the struggling Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries (WMMI), to stimulate local production. WMMI, the country’s largest car assembly plant, is currently struggling under the weight of crippling debts and declining sales volumes that has put more than 200 jobs at risk. Despite a strong Buy Zimbabwe lobby, bigwigs in government, including MPs, prefer to spend on top of-the-range vehicle imports