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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Zimbabwe: Outrage Over 71 Ministers

Kholwani Nyathi | 22 February 2009 | Zimbabwe Standard (Harare)

Harare — THE government is still battling to accommodate the 61 new ministers and deputy ministers amid revelations the decision to inflate the number of ministers of state has caused friction in the two Movement for Democratic Change formations.

Mavambo, an opposition group yesterday launched a scathing attack on the bloated government saying it reflected "abundantly that this GNU was all about convenience for the politicians and not about delivery of service to the people".

President Robert Mugabe last week swore in five ministers of state and 19 deputy ministers bringing the number of ministers, and deputy ministers to 61.

When the 10 governors are sworn in at a date to be announced, this would bring the size of the government to 71 members.

Sources said government was ill-prepared for costs associated with such a bloated government.

Most of the ministers and deputy ministers were last week shown empty offices without furniture, while others were reportedly squatting at private offices.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai also told guests at the MDC-T's 10th anniversary celebrations on Wednesday that the government was virtually broke, adding some of the ministers had no "offices and adequate furniture."

The addition of the five ministers of state and deputy ministers who were not catered for in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) worsened matters and the role to be played by the new ministers of State remains unclear.

Sources said Mugabe pleaded with Tsvangirai and Mutambara to have his ministers accommodated as part of efforts to ensure "stability" in the country. Mugabe pointed out the appointments were necessary in order for him to manage the "dynamics in Zanu PF" in the face of a stiff resistance by some members of the old guard to the formation of the inclusive government.

But the move has angered members of the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and appalled the Mavambo formation.

Opposition MPs and senators, who feel their parties had gone back on their campaign promises for a leaner government also expressed anger over Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara's endorsement of the bloated government.

They accused their principals of going back on their promises of a leaner government, which they fear would cost them their seats in the next polls.

"When we were campaigning we were saying we want a cabinet of 15 ministers and during the negotiations the number went up to 26 and eventually 31 after the agreement," said an MDC-M MP.

"The number has now gone to 71 for the entire government yet we are beggars, the million dollar question now is how do you convince donors to rescue you when you have such a bloated government.

"It is unjustifiable and the people of Zimbabwe deserve an explanation. Nonetheless I wish the new government success and good luck."

The MP accused the leaders of the three parties of putting their own political interests ahead of those of long suffering Zimbabweans.

Job Sikhala, the former St Mary's MP and a senior member of the MDC-M came out in the open saying party supporters were "confused and dismayed by the circus."

"This was the most stupid thing to do," he said. "A collapsed economy like Zimbabwe cannot afford the luxury of 71 ministers, even a country as big as the United States with 51 states has one president, one vice president and a cabinet of less than 21 ministers."

Disgruntled officials, from the Tsvangirai camp who preferred anonymity also voiced their anger at the bloated government.

"This is a hard sell, what do we tell our supporters who have yearned for a small responsible government. This looks like a gravy train when the economy is in bad shape," they said.

Tsvangirai on Friday said Zimbabwe needs at least US$5 billion to kick-start the recovery process.

The priority areas would be to tackle the raging cholera epidemic that has killed 3 759 people and left 80 000 infected since August.

A staggering seven million people cannot feed themselves and schools and hospitals remain closed because the government cannot pay teachers and doctors.

Mavambo, which is transforming into an opposition party said now there was no difference between the two MDC formations and Zanu PF.

"At least, we are not surprised by Zanu PF wanting a big government, because we have lived with it for many years," said the party in a statement yesterday. "But it's hard to believe that the two MDCs who have, over the years, used every platform available to promise the people of this country that they stood for a lean and streamlined government can readily violate their own principles.

The movement said the parties' principals were concerned about "containing the in-fighting and ruptures amongst their followers, hence, the need to embrace everyone who matters as a way of silencing them and stopping the emergence of opposition within their own parties".

Ernest Mudzengi, a political analyst said Mutambara and Tsvangirai risked being punished by the electorate for agreeing to be part of an institution that would drain the already burdened taxpayers.

But the two MDC formations defended themselves saying the transitional government was temporary.

"We have serious misgivings with the size of the cabinet particularly at a time when the economy is in such a bad state," said Nelson Chamisa, the MDC-T spokesperson.

"The MDC-T policy is to have no more than 15 ministers. We believe in a lean, efficient and accountable administration. "

Chamisa who is the Minister of Information Communication Technology in the inclusive government added: "However, we have to appreciate that this is not an MDC government: it is a transitional and inclusive government. There are too many players involved. Our party can only have its say, not its way."

Edwin Mushoriwa of the Mutambara led MDC said the bloated government was the cost of getting Zimbabwe back to its feet.

"It's a compromise," he said. "If the MDC had formed this government alone, it would have been learner, it would have been less than a quarter of what we have but we had to compromise."

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