Africa

Missing funds: MDC on the spot

Farai Shoko

Insiders say legislators who are unable to prove how they used allocated funds are unlikely to be retained during the confirmation process.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. (AFP)

With primary elections in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party slated for end of this month, sitting MPs are scrambling to prove to their constituencies how they used funds allocated to them under the constituency development fund (CDF).

The coalition government introduced the fund in the 2011 budget ostensibly to assist the country's legislators to spearhead development projects in their respective communities.

Under the arrangement, each MP receives $50 000 and is free to choose development programmes in their communities that would benefit from the funds.

MDC-T insiders say legislators unable to prove how they used the funds are unlikely to be retained by their constituencies during the party's confirmation process for its candidates to represent it at the poll.

The MDC-T's constitution requires that sitting MPs receive a two-thirds endorsement or confirmation from their constituencies to stand as party candidates.

Seven legislators from Zanu-PF and the two formations of the MDC have been accused of abusing the fund for personal gain.

Albert Mhlanga (MDC-T Pumula), Marvellous Mhlanga (MDC-T St Mary's), Cleopas Machachoa (MDC-T Kariba) and Franco Ndambakuwa (Zanu-PF Magunje) were questioned in early 2011 by the Anti-Corruption Commission and subsequently appeared in court on charges of abusing the facility.

Mhlanga and Ndambakuwa had their cases withdrawn before pleading, but the state indicated it would proceed by way of a summons.

However, attorney general Johannes Tomana later instructed that the investigations and arrest of legislators accused of abusing the fund be put on hold, saying that he had ordered the ministry of constitutional and parliamentary affairs to conduct a thorough audit of all 210 constituencies.

According to Eric Matinenga, the minister of constitutional and parliamentary affairs, only 65 constituencies out of 210 have been audited to date, largely owing to lack of money and manpower to carry out the exercise.

In the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of activity in the MDC-T, as MPs race to prove how the funds were spent.

Accountability and explanations
Jessie Majome, the MDC-T legislator for Harare West, has taken to social media to remind her constituency of the development projects she has funded.

Majome published online a list of projects she had undertaken, including repairing toilets, broken water pipes at clinics and the sinking of a borehole in her constituency.

"People need accountability and this is what I am giving them," she said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week.

MDC-T secretary general Tendai Biti and party national organising secretary Nelson Chamisa have also recently held meetings in their constituencies to explain how the money was used.

Two weeks ago, Chamisa handed over sewing machines to a women's club in his Kuwadzana constituency. The machines were bought with part of his allocation from the fund.

Meanwhile, the government has resolved to divert funds meant for the CDF for 2013 to the constitution-making process.

In its review of this year's budget tabled in Parliament recently and obtained by the M&G, the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice and parliamentary affairs said Minister Biti had provided $5-million for the CDF for 2013, but the government intended to divert that money towards the constitution-making process.

But, in its report submitted in August, the justice committee called for a probe into the legality of using the funds intended for constituencies to fund the activities of the parliamentary constitution select committee when it could be separately provided for in the budget.

"The committee noted that it is illegal to channel the CDF allocation to cover Copac activities, hence there is need to understand the legality of doing this," reads part of the justice committee's review.

If the funds are allocated to MPs, the government will reduce the CDF allocation to $23 000 per constituency owing to limited funds.

The government previously pledged to release the funds for 2013, but only after the election, to avoid the problem of tracking down money from losing legislators.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe's constitutional affairs minister Eric Matinenga announced this week that the referendum on the constitution will take place on March 16.

It remains unclear how the poll will be funded after government wrote to the United Nations requesting funds to carry out both the constitutional referendum and the elections.

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