Is Zanu PF richer than the state?

HARARE - The contrast could not be starker.

While government has been scrambling for funds to buy medicines and build “a shack” for next year’s United Nations tourism meeting, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF splurged $6,5 million on a Gweru conference facility for its annual gathering.

This, observers say, is not only embarrassing, but typifies the octogenarian leader’s misplaced priorities since 1980.

With tourism authorities announcing three weeks ago that about 800 to 1 000 delegates are expected for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) summit, the Victoria Falls jaunt “hangs in the balance” due to logistical problems, including a lack of conferencing facilities for the participants from across the world.

Although Tourism minister Walter Mzembi is “ever so optimistic about a miracle” to salvage the situation and the country’s image, he denies his party is being profigate in splashing on a potential “white elephant” than a national project to support an industry once earning the country in excess of $6 billion a year.

“We have, however, received a commitment from the Finance ministry that funds for the conference in Victoria Falls will be made available in a fortnight, so there is no crisis at all, ” he said.

“Those are two different events and you cannot link the two. However, government — for that matter one of national unity — should be ashamed that Zanu PF has managed to build such a facility,” Mzembi said.

While it is known that Mugabe’s party is broke — with non-performing loans at one key bank — it is surprising how the ex-majority party has managed to fund such activities as the Midlands facility, which the youthful minister dubs “best investment decision ever”.

In fact, Zanu PF secretary for administration and fundraising committee chairperson Didymus Mutasa hinted that all was not well with their fundraising activities ahead of the Gweru conference.

Dubbed the “hall of shame” by Zimbabweans miffed by Zanu PF’s insensitivity, given the sorry state of Gweru companies including Bata, the monstrous 5 000-seater superstructure was built on the fringes of the Midlands capital with the help of Chinese funders.

With many asking where Mugabe and his party — leading one of Africa’s alleged failed states — are getting the money to bankroll such a project, there are growing fears of “Mobuto-cracy” here and where the late Congolese dictator had more money than the state.

David Coltart, a lawyer and Zimbabwe’s Education minister, lamented the situation, as his ministry continues to survive on the goodwill of donors.

“We have a warped system in Zimbabwe; a history of misplaced priorities (such as) this hall in Gweru and the military college in Mazowe constructed to the tune of $100 million. If that money had been channelled towards the rehabilitation of schools, then we would have improved the learning institutions,” he said.

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 has only been given $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.

With nearly two million people on the government housing waiting list, Housing minister Giles Mutsekwa says it is “extremely embarrassing” for Zanu PF to be splashing $6,5 million on the hall.

“When I heard about the... hall in Gweru I was shocked. Zanu PF is our partner... (and) for them to splash such an amount on a hall is embarrassing. I am struggling to give people houses because the government is broke,” he said.

“If I had been given that (kind of) money, we could have built houses for more than 300 people.

“For instance, the Willovale Flats were built for $8 million,” Mutsekwa added.

Dewa Mavhinga, a political analyst, said Zanu PF must do some serious soul-searching.

“The first question for Zanu PF is: where is the money coming from? But perhaps a more important question 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 health sector, clean water or general support to the ailing economy?

“This... points to a party out of touch with the people; a party in cloud cuckoo land,” he said.
Mutasa said the hall was about “comfort and nothing to be embarrassed about”.

“People are not struggling because of the hall; people are suffering because Tsvangirai brought sanctions to this country. There is absolutely no connection between the hall and the lack of service in the country,” he said.

Apart from splashing on an isolated “conference centre”, Mugabe’s party has also bought 400 cars for next year’s polls. — Weekend Post

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