Tuesday, 30 June 2020

COVID-19, COLLAPSED ECONOMY DEVASTATE MILITARY


WITH Zimbabwe reeling from the double-whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s long-standing economic crisis, Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri has lifted the lid on the immense challenges this is creating for the armed forces. 

This prompted analysts who spoke to the Daily News last night to say that the situation threatened peace and stability in the country — as demoralised soldiers were being forced to survive on grossly inadequate rations all round. 

At the same time, it was also announced yesterday that the military had joined other security forces in a manhunt for dangerous criminals who recently escaped from the country’s coronavirus quarantine centres. 

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Muchinguri-Kashiri — who is also the chairperson of the ruling Zanu PF — said the corona pandemic had particularly gutted the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) through diminished budgets.

“ZDF medical personnel have been deployed alongside their ministry of Health and Child Care counterparts in manning the various medical institutions … and as such, are on the frontline in the fight against Covid-19. 

“In both cases, the ZDF personnel are highly exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19 due to their interaction with many people whose status is unknown, both in law enforcement and medical duties. 

“Thus, constraints, such as the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) are serious challenges to their effectiveness and safety,” Muchinguri-Kashiri told the portfolio committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services. 

“Inadequate funding for food, transport, fuel and kitting, which became perennial after the imposition of illegal sanctions, also take their toll on both the morale of troops and effectiveness. 

“Shortage of institutional accommodation further complicates matters because under such circumstances ZDF members are supposed to stay away from their families to avoid transmitting the disease. 

“But this is not possible due to the shortage of barrack accommodation,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said further.

 She also told the committee that at present the country had no functional military hospital, leaving soldiers and their families to join members of the public at State health facilities — which were reeling from challenges of their own.

“Under normal circumstances, ZDF members and their dependents are supposed to be treated at dedicated military hospitals. “This is the trend the world over and Zimbabwe is one of the few countries that are lagging behind in this regard.

“Our plea is that resources be availed for this purpose in order to restore the dignity of our military forces,” Muchinguri-Kashiri added.

“Aged equipment, motor vehicles, arms and munitions have not been replaced for years.
“These factors have reduced the effectiveness of ZDF and other security apparatus, and the advent of Covid-19 has not made matters any better. 

“The ministry of Defence and War Veterans Affairs has suffered a drastic reduction in its monthly allocation of $154 million before the pandemic, to a mere $54 million, which is inadequate for the recurrent expenditure of the ministry, let alone the added requirements of PPEs, hand sanitisers and thermometers. 

“It is indeed a tall order to expect the ministry to deliver to expectations with an allocation that is hardly adequate for the soldiers’ daily rations,” Muchinguri-Kashiri further told the committee. 

She also revealed that at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the ZDF had submitted a $500 million budget to cover three months of Covid-19 operations, but Treasury had only released $100 million.
  
Muchinguri-Kashiri also asked for the provision of resources to buy cameras and drones to facilitate remote electronic monitoring of borders to curb the high number of cases of border jumping — which she said had the potential to spread Covid-19 in the country. 

Yesterday was not the first time that Muchinguri-Kashiri had revealed the carnage that had been caused by Zimbabwe’s dying economy on the ZDF. 

Addressing MPs in Victoria Falls during Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s budget consultations last year, she also painted a sorry picture of the state of affairs within the military.

“We are expected to host other defence forces but no one wants to come here because of these conditions. We can’t beg for food for soldiers. These are people who have sacrificed themselves,” she said.

“We need food rations as we are expected to provide 30 items, but we are only giving them (soldiers) 10.

“We are expected to provide four sets of uniforms but they have only one. You can identify a Zimbabwean soldier by their worn-out uniforms,” Muchinguri-Kashiri told the MPs. 

A few days ahead of the presentation of his 2020 National Budget, Ncube told the Daily News in an exclusive interview that Zimbabweans should not see shadows behind the government’s plans to improve the welfare of the security sector.

“Peace comes at a cost. So, you pay for the peace … we consume peace, it’s a service. Just try war and see what happens to the value of everything when you have instability. 

“People complain about soldiers this and that, but let me tell you, if we do not have peace you will have huge problems,” he said. “We are also working on a programme to acquire motorcycles and vehicles (for the police) … they should not be driving BMWs but mushika-shikas. That is the way to go. 

“It’s very important that we should make sure that the security cluster is well funded, that soldiers have a decent meal, three meals a day, as well as the police,” Ncube further said. 

“Right now police can’t respond to incidents of crime because there are no motorcycles, no vehicles and so forth. They also have nowhere decent to live. So, think about their accommodation … and the same applies to the military. 

“So, all of this is critically important. These are not things you do in one year, but food is for tomorrow … transportation and housing you do it over time,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Muchinguri-Kashiri also told Parliament yesterday that the military had been roped in to track dangerous criminals that recently escaped from quarantine centres across the country. 

“We are concerned about more than 170 hard-core criminals who were released from neighbouring countries who have escaped from quarantine centres. 

“Some of them are already causing havoc in the country. Some of them do not have identification documents and some are convicted murderers. 

“Now, we are having to send rapid response teams to hunt for these people,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.  The government has been criticised by some of the returning Zimbabweans for the “deplorable” conditions at quarantine centres. 

Many returnees have complained about the poor food and inhabitable conditions, which they have said have exposed them to the lethal virus. Daily News

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