HomeOpinion & AnalysisPublicans, sinners at work in the food relief system

Publicans, sinners at work in the food relief system

By Jonathan Maphenduka

THE government food relief system started bearing fruit with reports last week that qualifying beneficiaries have received some money through their accounts with the People’s Own Savings Bank (POSB). The money (it is believed) is part of US$600 million, which has been raised to alleviate suffering among the country’s senior citizens and the handicapped.

While the release of the money is a welcome boon for which government must be commended for its speedy release, there are aspects of its administration that are a cause for concern and must be explained to the people.

It is clear there are impediments in the way before the people actually benefit from the relief. These impediments don’t only relate to the lockdown now affecting all, following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic; they are also due to administrative roadblocks that impede the release of the money to the people.

When in early March the local grapevine first announced the pending move by government to give relief to the people, confusion reigned within the community of beneficiaries, whose social security has also been compromised by a poor rainfall this season.

The usual local disseminators of information regarding the people’s need of government intervention, initially said people needed to visit the POSB to open accounts with the people’s own bank to facilitate deposits into their accounts.

Many people rushed to the POSB facilities to open accounts. Some of them had to borrow from friends to meet the requirements in this regard.

As I am writing, I have in front of me an account statement issued by a POSB branch, and a receipt showing an amount of Z$45.00 paid by an applicant. These documents are dated March 12 2020.

One of the requirements, the account holder was told, you had to have a cell phone to access the benefits in your account. This particular account holder did not have a cell phone but the money remains in the POSB account without any hope for its return to the account holder. There is no knowing that this is an isolated case, but there is no avoiding the fear that thousands of other people were caught up in this confusion in the administration of government policy in this regard.

The account statement shows some interesting details beginning (of course) with the name of the applicant etc, etc. The details show that it is a foreign currency account for the benefit of senior citizens, which is payable in US dollars.

The effective date of March 12 with original profit rate of 0.500000000%, a figure whose meaning can only be extremely confusing to most people.

The holder of this particular account still had some shock awaiting her, because days after she opened the account with money borrowed from a friend, people were called to gather at their usual meeting place where officials of the Social Welfare Department, accompanied by POSB officials, announced a new system for the benefit of senior citizens and the handicapped.

The new system was that government had decided to forego the old system in which the people received a bucket of maize after paying a token surcharge of $8 for transport to bring the maize to the people. The people complained bitterly, saying government was delivering supplies to the rural population (where the ruling party enjoys unchallenged support) without charging for transport. Another bone of contention was that rural people received a 50kg each.

But the “publicans and sinners” of the whole system had made their calculations and decided how the government could benefit. Who are the publicans and who are sinners? The publicans are those who are employed to collect government revenue (like the POSB) and the sinners are policy-makers who are not particularly concerned about cause and effect of government policy. They are cynics and anti-socialists whose main concern is to ensure government gets its revenue.

Once the money has been collected, there is no knowing how the policy makers will use it. We have had in this country many cases of public money being stashed away in banks abroad, and the sinners getting away with it.

At the gathering during which the government announced the new system (benefitting the people with money instead of maize) the people were given NetOne cards free of charge, the people were told. As the money started appearing in accounts of those who were registered, it was announced that beneficiaries must apply for cards before they can withdraw or use the $180 to which they are entitled.

This means applying for a card at the POSB. With the lockdown in force it is not possible for anyone to apply for authorisation cards. The money, therefore, remains with the POSB until the lockdown is lifted, and there is no indication that it will be lifted anytime soon. One should be seen to be blaming government for the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. However, government must sit on its laurels believing the money has reached its intended beneficiaries.

This is a problem for government to sort out to ensure the money gets to the people.

Many questions have been left hanging. One of the questions pertains to the currency and how often the people can expect to receive the money. It is believed, however, that the money comes from donors in foreign currency and people expect it to come in that currency, not the measly local currency.

When the people were registering they were told that the publicans were there to register all those who qualified, not to answer questions. So the people went home without knowing many things.

A burning question pertains to the issue on how government determined the amount of $180 now in their account, and how that money can sustain an average family. How often shall the money be deposited in their accounts is another burning question.

Government officials were happy to announce that the people would be issued with NetOne cellphone lines and numbers, but the officials did not tell if government would deduct the cost from their benefits. Was this a gimmick to recruit phone users for NetOne, many people wondered, and this fear was compounded by refusal of those who were registering beneficiaries to answer questions.

“We are here to register you and not to answer your questions,” the people were told.

In Zimbabwe there is no such thing as public opinion. Any attempt to promote public opinion is either muzzled or smothered with a reminder that the war veterans fought a war of liberation and have a God-given right to go on ruling without being reminded of public concerns.

The war veterans have created a system of government that perpetuates a self-glorifying evil by appointing their Young Turks to rule after them. So the whole idea that the war veterans went to war alone for the sole purpose of suppressing and oppressing the people goes on.

They are getting away with murder.

l Jonathan Maphenduka contact 0772 332 404

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