Monday, 18 September 2017

CHIEFS DEMAND FORD RANGERS

Traditional chiefs — Zanu PF’s unofficial political commissars — are playing hard to get with the ruling party, threatening to paralyse its campaign for next year’s polls if Treasury does not consent to their inflationary demands, the Daily News can report.

The chiefs, who have been instrumental in engineering Zanu PF’s electoral victories and are regarded as an important constituency by President Robert Mugabe, have launched a battle to get taxpayer-funded cars along with a raft of other featherbeddings that would cost the broke national purse a fortune.

Among their demands, they have made a requisition for off-roader vehicles — 226 Ford Rangers — whose price averages $50 000 at local dealerships.

Treasury sources said despite the fact that their bosses are kicking and screaming over the unavailability of funding to meet critical payments, including hospital equipment and drugs, the request could be approved within weeks.

This comes as ordinary Zimbabweans are reeling from a range of taxes and price hikes precipitated by government’s desperate measures to increase revenue and pay its bloated workforce.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has said the vehicles cannot be imported now because of low nostro account balances.


A nostro account is a bank account held in a foreign country by a domestic bank — denominated in the currency of that country.
Nostro accounts are used to facilitate settlement of foreign exchange and trade 
transactions.

Notwithstanding, the chiefs told the Daily News that they were entitled to getting the benefits, including vehicles, farms, an increase in their monthly allowances, as well as government-funded medical aid cover, arguing that it would be in fulfilment of promises that Zanu PF made in the aftermath of the 2013 elections.

The perks issue seems to have soured relations between the chiefs and Abednico Ncube, the minister of Rural Development, Protection and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage.

Ncube, according to the chiefs interviewed by the Daily News, has been a huge let down since his appointment, warning ominously that the planned curb on their cars and perks would affect their ability to campaign for Mugabe and Zanu PF.

Chiefs are also bemoaning a critical funding shortfall that has seen the Chief’s Council failing to hold meetings as per tradition.

President of the council, Fortune Charumbira, reportedly approached vice presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko last month over the issue.
Charumbira told the Daily News: “I do not wish to discuss these issues in the media, we are doing it at the right platforms.”

He, however, confirmed that the chiefs were no longer keen to continue working with Ncube, demanding to have direct access to Mugabe.

“The meetings on the 2nd and 3rd of August were meant to register our displeasure with the way government is treating us especially on the issue of our vehicles whose tender has since been done but now we are told ... Chinamasa has said the reason why the vehicles are not coming is that the national nostro account has nothing,” Charumbira said about the meetings convened by the chiefs to air the grievances.

Both Ncube and his permanent secretary George Magosvongwe were not picking their phones and had not responded to questions sent to them via text message by the time of going to print.

Speaking in Parliament in May, Ncube revealed that government would be buying new cars for the chiefs soon.

“It (buying new cars) is something we are working on. We are going to give them (chiefs) very shortly… all 226 registered chiefs will get the cars,” Ncube said, responding to questions on how much the government had budgeted for chiefs to have vehicles before the expiry of the current parliamentary term.

Chief Nyamukoho of Mutoko in Mashonaland East Province told the Daily News that their demands would be high on the agenda when Parliament reconvenes.
Mugabe opened the Fifth Session of Parliament last Tuesday and addressed a joint sitting of the Senate and the National Assembly, but did not outline his plan for the chiefs’ perks.
The National Assembly resumes sitting this Tuesday while the Senate, which includes chiefs, is adjourned until Tuesday next week.

“I wanted to raise the issue in Parliament but we have adjourned for too long but the truth is government has reduced us to worthless levels,” Nyamukoho said.

“Elections are coming and the president has said we must mobilise the people without violating electoral laws and we hoped that they would provide us with vehicles but there is nothing and we have no capacity.

“One wonders if government now thinks that chiefs are worthless and that they value district administrators more than us,” he said.

While the chiefs feel strongly that the taxpayer must foot the bill, they are also aware of the certain public backlash if they are awarded the vehicles while most of the country suffers continuing austerity.

Chief Daster Chisunga of Mashonaland Central Province accused government of failing to fulfil its obligations to take care of the traditional leaders’ welfare, including buying them vehicles.

“It’s a thorny issue because the little money that is allocated to us by government from the national budget through the ministry is being used there for their operations, while our welfare is neglected,” Chisunga said.

Apart from splurging on new cars for the traditional leaders, the stone-broke government will also continue to pay village heads $25 in monthly allowances.

The traditional leaders are not given salaries, but are entitled to allowances.
They have often been accused by the opposition and rights groups of aiding Zanu PF to retain power through terror campaigns and partisan food distribution in rural areas.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said early this year after concluding his listening tour of Mashonaland East, where he interacted with traditional leaders — that they opened up to him on how they were already being roped in by Zanu PF to become part of the apparatus to ensure victory for the ruling party in 2018.

Traditional chief after traditional chief had apparently told Tsvangirai during his tour of the restive Mashonaland East Province, which is traditionally a Zanu PF stronghold, that they were being forced to not only join the ruling party, but to also lead its cells and wards — and to actively work to help rig next year’s polls.

“We have been on the ground here in Mashonaland East and what we are seeing and hearing is that Zanu PF wants to steal the next elections again, after they took over the BVR (biometric voter registration) process, in addition to commandeering chiefs, village heads and headmen on board this devious scheme.

“The fearful village heads all said they were forced to be chairpersons of Zanu PF’s cells. That way, Zanu PF will coerce them to frog-march people to vote for the ruling party.
“So, the sum total of Zanu PF’s ploy is that it is assimilating traditional leaders into its partisan structures, abusing them in the process.

“However, we will do all that we can to ensure that traditional leaders are not abused and absorbed into Zanu PF structures. Indeed, the rights of traditional leaders must and will be observed,” Tsvangirai said then.daily news

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