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Patronage, ignorance: The twin evils of greed

Leafing through an August 2012 edition of the respected Financial Mail magazine, I came across an article in which editor Barney Mthombothi wrote scathingly about the non-performance of South African MPs.

From The Editor’s Desk by Desmond Kumbuka

He was brutal in his assessment: “They are the most pampered, over-paid do-nothing nobodies on earth.” I was starkly reminded of our own for-ever whining legislators, many of whom seem to spend their time day-dreaming of a life of luxury at the State’s expense.

Now we read that many of the ex-legislators from the 7th Parliament are faced with destitution. Some, we hear, are having to scrounge around for money from banks against allowances owed to them by Treasury.

The impression created by this sad turn of events is that these were career MPs whose only source of income was their parliamentary positions. Must we assume then that before they were elected to parliament they had no other source of income or that they abandoned their professional pursuits to devote their entire lives to politics. Is that logical?

This is a fundamental weakness of African political systems which turn politicians who happen to find their way into the government structures into dependents or parasites of the State.

In more advanced democracies, those that aspire for political office must have the financial wherewithal to support their campaigns without looking for government bail-outs. The situation our ex-legislators find themselves in is a national disgrace and embarrassment.

It is a poor reflection of the state of our democracy. While many may consider that a system that allows any Jim, Jack or Jill to aspire for political office is truly democratic, mendicant legislators will invariably spend more of their time pondering how to overcome their own poverty before they can start to think of improving the lives of people in their constituents.

Listening to some of the pre-occupations of our legislators, one is left wondering whether their motivation for becoming MPs was the well being of their electors or whether to them, this was a step up to the gravy train. Their endless demands for new vehicles, allowances and all kinds of perks, and their evident lack of concern about whether government can afford to meet these demands, is disconcerting.

This is all because of the opaque patronage culture upon which Zanu PF has crafted its support which, mark my words, will one day prove to be its Achilles’ heel.

A self-confessed Grade Two drop-out has found his way into parliament purely because he is a member of the ruling party. While this could be a perfectly responsible citizen with the best intentions for the country at heart, his lack of academic credentials invariably imposes limitations on his ability to grasp and articulate issues competently.

While the rather loquacious Joseph Chinotimba may deliver amusing anecdotes in his blandishments in parliament and other fora to which legislators are expected to contribute, it remains debatable whether the country can derive much value from his intellectual input, or lack thereof.

The country is currently facing daunting economic challenges, and the legislature is a crucial arm of government in seeking lasting solutions. One wonders whether the likes of Chinotimba have the capacity to brainstorm the complex issues involved in economic revival to be able to competently suggest corrective solutions.

For Zimbabwe, with arguably one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, with hundreds of thousands of university graduates working at home and abroad, it is astounding that we end up with a parliament full of illiterate or semi-educated nonentities whose pre-occupation for the duration of their parliamentary tenure, is feathering their own threadbare nests.

Many of them are aware of their limitations and do not fancy their chances for a second term so they make hay while the sun shines.

The situation of our MPs is not unlike that of the hordes of beneficiaries of the Zanu PF patronage who populate the perennially loss-making parastatals. Many of the “managers,” appointed purely on the basis of their support for the ruling party, know that once their performance is put under the miscroscope, their chances of survival are virtually nil, so they use their temporary tenure at the helm of companies they lead to loot whatever they can before they are inevitably booted out for incompetence.

Fortunately for them, the system is so sluggish and impervious that they can last for years before their errant ways are exposed.

A typical example is that of suspended ZBC chief executive officer, Happison Muchechetere, who after nearly eight years getting an inflated salary and allowances, it is suddenly discovered that he is not qualified for the job. One wonders how he got into that position in the first place and why it has taken eight long years for the authorities to wise up to the situation.

The shocking revelations that chief executive officer of PSMAS Cuthbert Dube, was earning as much as US$230 000 as his monthly salary, exposes another worrying dimension to the malfeasance manifesting in our society.

Anyone employed in a public institution to which struggling civil servants, a majority of them earning well below the official Poverty Datum Line (PDL) contribute, claiming such a disproportionate share of public resources ought to be regarded as a criminal against national interest.

Cutting the salaries of the looters at PSMAS is woefully inadequate — they should all be arrested and made to refund the money they plundered.

If Zimbabwe is serious about resolving its economic problems, then it needs to be equally serious about the calibre of people it appoints to manage its affairs.

It is ironic that President Robert Mugabe frequently chides former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai suggesting his limited academic achievements hampered his appreciation of complex government business in the inclusive government, but is quite happy to have the likes of Chinotimba and the Grade Two drop-out to represent his party in parliament. Talk of double-standards!

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