Zanu PF's hall of shame

HARARE - For most struggling Zimbabweans, it is an unimaginable expense: $6,5 million on a conference centre for Zanu PF's 13th national people's conference.

It gets worse when reports suggest the party is being funded by Marange diamonds, which citizens are praying could be used to turn the country’s fortunes around.

The construction of the imposing convention hall, 15km along the Gweru-Mvuma Road, deep in the countryside of Midlands Province, has included offices for the presidium, a giant stage, a 5 000-seater convention hall, state-of-the-art public address system and other gizmos and amenities to carry the party’s “very, very important visitors” into the five-day conference which opens on December 4.

But while Zanu PF maintains the convention hall is a legacy project bankrolled by well-wishers, this has failed to quell Zimbabweans outrage over the high cost of the project, along with reports that millions more dollars whose sourcing remains a secret will be spent on accommodating the thousands of delegates.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC is pushing for a parliamentary probe on the “election monster.”

The legislature could be asked during the fifth session of Parliament to probe funding for the convention centre, MDC officials say.

Asked about the $6.5 million convention centre, Zanu PF administration secretary Didymus Mutasa did not attempt to deny the cost of the convention centre.

Instead, he talked vaguely about “exaggerations” and denied it was a sign of misplaced priorities.

“People are not struggling because of the hall; people are suffering because Tsvangirai brought sanctions to this country,” Mutasa told the Daily News on Sunday.

“He is still calling for sanctions without any embarrassment, if anyone should be ashamed it is Tsvangirai.

“There is absolutely no connection between the hall and the lack of service in the country. That hall is in fact about the comfort of the people who come to the conference.”

Mutasa, who is also the minister of State in the President’s office, said Zanu PF had rich friends.

“Money does not rain from the skies, mari inotsvagwa muminda, mumaindustry uye kubva kumadzisahwira (we get our money from agriculture, industries and also friends),” said Mutasa.

Zanu PF, founded in 1963, has an official headquarters in Harare, in addition to several conference facilities at its disposal countrywide.

Housing and Social Amenities minister Giles Mutsekwa, the Defence secretary in Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s MDC, called the expenditure on the Zanu PF conference centre not only morally wrong and unjustifiable given the country’s social needs, but also possibly illegal.

“When I heard about the construction of the hall in Gweru I was shocked,” Mutsekwa said.

“Zanu PF is our partner in government and they claim that they represent the people (but) for them to splash such an amount on a hall is embarrassing. I am struggling to give people houses because the government is broke. I do not know where they are getting money to buy such a structure.

“If I had been given that money, I could have built houses for more than 300 people, the Willowvale flats I built cost $8 million,” added Mutsekwa.

Zimbabwe remains one of the world’s most unequal countries, with millions living in poverty and post-independence frustrations regularly boiling over into street protests, especially by women’s groups such as Woza.

Critics of Zanu PF say the party and its wealthy leaders have lost touch with ordinary Zimbabweans and the imposing Gweru structure is one such example of a leadership at tangent with the populace.

The majority of households are struggling with lack of access to basic services such as water while millions remain on the housing waiting list. The UN says 1,6 million are in dire need of food assistance and are not getting it.

David Coltart, minister of Education, Arts, Sports and Culture and a member of Welshman Ncube’s MDC, whose ministry is surviving on the goodwill of donors to bankroll its programmes, said Mugabe’s party has warped priorities.

“We have a warped system in Zimbabwe, a history of misplaced priorities; this hall in Gweru and the military college in Mazowe constructed to the tune of $100 million,” he said.

“If that money had been channelled towards the rehabilitation of schools, then we would have improved the learning institutions.”

Government in 2010 signed an agreement with China to use Marange diamonds to pay off the $100 million for the Zimbabwe Defence College, which was completed well ahead of schedule.

Schools around the country are in a state of disrepair with children having to learn seated on hard floors or perched on stumps under the cover of trees.

Coltart, whose ministry received only $8 million for this year, said he has engaged the ministry of Finance over lack of funding.

“I have talked to Finance minister Tendai Biti over budget allocation to the education sector and I should say he was very sympathetic.

“Unfortunately he has little room to manoeuvre. We need a complete change in our priorities” said Coltart.

Coltart spoke as Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chairperson Godwills Masimirembwa admitted this week that a paltry $150 million out of a projected $600 million from Marange diamonds was going to be remitted to Treasury by year-end, raising questions about the flow of diamond money.

Opposition Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa, an ex-Zanu PF politburo member, said one day the truth will haunt his former party as questions on the source of the money to bankroll such a huge project rise.

“It remains a question of where is Zanu PF getting this money,” Dabengwa said. “One day the truth will come out to haunt Zanu PF. Whoever the donors are will be known and that will be embarrassing.”

The fallout over the $6,5 million conference centre comes at a politically sensitive time for Zanu PF, which is seeking re-election in forthcoming watershed elections.

Dewa Mavhinga, a civil rights campaigner and political analyst, said Zanu PF should do some soul searching.

“The first question for Zanu PF is: where is the money coming from?” Mavhinga asked. “But a more important question that calls for Zanu PF leaders to do deep soul-searching is: why throw such lavish and obscene sums towards the construction of a hall when the people of Zimbabwe have numerous urgent and pressing needs including the resuscitation of a collapsed health sector; provision of clean water in the cities; or general support to an ailing economy.

“This flamboyance and extravagance points to a party out of touch with the people; a party living in cloud cuckoo land,” added Mavhinga.

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