Occupying a political office in Zimbabwe and many other countries seems to be a licence to get rich quick. Their position in society and their uninterrupted access to powerful contacts in business and other sectors gives them an advantage over the general citizens when it comes to making money. Powerful politicians can literally knock on any door and get “assisted” in record time. Be it loan or passport applications, politicians always seem to get first preference. In this article, we look at the numerous opportunities for politicians to make money. Some are legal while others are not so legal.
Salaries and allowances
A huge chunk of politicians get their clean money from their monthly salaries and allowances. Member of Parliament (MP) are entitled to sitting allowances whenever there is a sitting of parliament. Those who have to travel to Harare for parliamentary sittings also get travelling allowances. In addition, they get allowances associated with accommodation and upkeep while in Harare. It is believed that such allowances sometimes even exceed basic salaries. This means that a legislator ends up earning twice his salary or more per month. While the actual figures are not public, it is clear that good money is being made in salaries and allowances. Earlier this year, there were reports that MPs were getting about $30 000 each, the money being outstanding allowances for 5 months.
As far back as the land reform exercise, politicians positioned themselves to benefit more. They grabbed prime land and sometimes took over farms which had good infrastructure. Some farms even had livestock and machinery. During this era, land was allegedly distributed along partisan lines and the more politically connected you were, the more good land you got. In 2015, President Mnangagwa (then Vice President) acknowledged that there were many senior government officials with multiple farms. More than a decade later, we see land for farming and residential stands seemingly being allocated on the basis of political affiliation.
The case of the former First Lady’s sister, Shuvai Gumbochuma quickly springs to mind. It is alleged that Shuvai got land worthy $424 462 on the pretext that she was going to develop it for residential stands only to sell it for $2 060 000 without doing anything to the land. Her buyer actually paid the council the $424 462. It is clear that there is political influence here and somehow a politician benefited. Furthermore, a land audit was recently instituted to look at double or multiple farm ownership or underutilised farm land among other issues. It is the politicians or their connections who are suspected to have benefitted from such anomalies.
Last year, Chitungwiza councilors were suspended after being accused of engaging in illegal sales of residential stands and land worth $7 million. An internal audit revealed that councillors and staff allocated themselves stands/land and undercharged by as much as $200 and proceeded to sell the same stands for $5 000.
Fronting for investors
Normally, most potential investors’ first point of contact in the country is with politicians. As alluded to earlier, politicians are capable of pulling the right strings to facilitate investment deals especially at a very high level. With the past indigenisation laws requiring at least 51% local ownership in certain industries, politicians were a viable local business partner for foreign investors. However, due to the fact that the local business partner will not be putting in any money, their 51% only exists on paper to circumvent the indigenisation law requirements.
In reality, the politician will just be using their political power to front for the investor. A case in point is that of Former Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko where his foreign investors in Choppies Supermarket are claiming that the 51% ownership that he carries is just on paper. In reality, the investors argue that he owns only 7% of the business. Indeed there are many such cases and politicians stand to benefit immensely from such arrangements.
There are many instances in Zimbabwe and across the world where politicians benefit by influencing the awarding of big tenders in their favour. These tenders are either awarded to their companies or to companies which they have links with. In South Africa, Malusi Gigaba and Jacob Zuma have already been accused of flouting tender procedures in order to benefit themselves or their connections. Closer to home, the much publicised Samuel Undenge case was recently dismissed. If convicted, this was going to be a classic case of political interference in tender awards since he was being accused of allegedly influencing the award of the Gwanda Solar Power Project to businessman and Intratrek owner, Wicknell Chivayo.
The current Nyanga South MP and former ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira is currently before the courts as he is facing two counts of criminal abuse of office as a public officer during his tenure as a Cabinet minister. It is alleged that he engaged South African firm Megawatt Company to provide services to NetOne without going to tender. It turns out that the owner of Megawatt, Lui Xiadong, has business dealings with Supa Mandiwanzira’s company as they jointly own a business property in Johannesburg.
The truth is that many government tender awards are shrouded in secrecy and deep down, the politicians stand to make the most.
Abuse of farming inputs and donations
In Zimbabwe, there have been many cases of abuse of farming inputs to the detriment of intended beneficiaries. It is important to note that there are a number of farm input schemes currently being run in the country. Command agriculture, the Presidential Input Scheme as well as various other interventions are spearheaded and managed by politicians. This opens a door for abuse. The 2007-2008 farm mechanisation scheme is one example. Politicians and senior government officials were the major beneficiaries of the farm mechanisation scheme which was supposed to assist new farmers who got land under the land reform programme. Some would get the equipment for free, and resell.
As for donations, Econet Founder, Strive Masiyiwa recently cried foul over the $10 million that his company had donated to help in the fight against Cholera. The money was about to be abused through inflation of prices. The 2010 $40 million youth empowerment fund is believed to have been looted by politicians. The facility was financed by four banks — CABS, CBZ, Stanbic Bank and Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe.
Fraud, corruption and bribery
In recent months, we have seen a number of fraud and corruption charges being raised against politicians or former holders of political offices. Former Highfield legislator Psychology Maziwisa and his co-accused, former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) news anchor, Oscar Pambuka were last week jailed for six and a half years for duping the Zimbabwe Power Company of $12 000. There are many companies which are alleged to have bribed politicians, including Billy Rautenbach’s Green Fuel and Tongaat Hulett.
In 2015, the richest man in Africa Aliko Dangote came to Zimbabwe with the intention of investing in the country. However, he ended up not investing anything as it is alleged that some cabinet ministers wanted bribes. Some of the foreign investors end up paying the bribes and politicians get rich in the process.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) was formed to deal with this very problem. Although ZACC has been criticised for political interference and other internal weaknesses, the point is clear. Corruption and fraud are deep seated problems affecting our nation and politicians benefit most.
At some point, we have to be reminded that, rather than being a money making scheme, being a politician is an oath to be accountable, transparent and to uphold the laws of the land.
Honest Business Dealings
Not all politicians are abusing their power to acquire wealth. Some are clean and are making money the right way. Just like everyone else, politicians have the right to invest their money in businesses, and some have done so. Politicians are able to use their popularity as politicians in order to promote their businesses. Brand awareness maybe high from the mere fact that a business is owned by a politician. Their political status may make it easier for them to get financing, good supplier linkages and beneficial business partnerships. However, people may assume that all rich politicians are dirty, but this is not necessarily true. If ordinary citizens can become rich without corruption, then it follows that politicians can also acquire wealth the same way.