Reports that Finance minister Tendai Biti has written off a $9 million vehicles loan scheme that was advanced to MPs in 2009 after the policymakers allegedly failed to repay the amounts is all but mind-boggling.
What is even worrying is the fact that Biti thinks the matter is now water under the bridge, and, therefore, does not warrant national debate. The decision to write off the loans exposes Treasury and the parliamentarians as greedy.
Biti has been roundly criticised over the matter in as much as he has been defended by those he benefited– the MPs. We believe this deceit must not be indulged.
The minister disclosed this last Tuesday in the House of Assembly while responding to MPs’ queries on why Treasury took so long to clear their sitting allowances since 2008.
“On the issue of your sitting allowances, we know about those things. As Finance minister, I think you honourable members, with due respect, should appreciate what we have done for you. We wrote off the $30 000 loan for the vehicles even though the law says you must pay (back). Last year, we gave you that bonus, which I shall not mention, otherwise it will be written in the papers. We have done a lot of things for you because we really understand your plight,” Biti told Parliament.
At least 300 MPs got $30 000 each under the car loan scheme – a revolving fund, but it emerged last week that Treasury had awarded bonuses to the MPs last year and yet failed to do the same for civil servants. Government has refused to revise upwards salaries for its workers citing a cash squeeze yet Treasury in December last year deposited a flat $15 000 in all MPs’ accounts. This was despite the fact that some of the lawmakers were not entitled to the allowances, particularly ministers. Government has continued paying them sitting allowances monthly up to date.
When the lawmakers demanded their sitting allowances, they claimed they wanted to liquidate their car loans.
While it is understood that local MPs are lowly paid compared to their counterparts elsewhere in Africa, we believe Treasury should treat all its workers equally so as not to cause confusion.
How does Biti explain this fact when civil servants have not received any salary rise over the last couple of years? Besides, there are no loan schemes for the bulk of civil servants who are all poorly remunerated. Could the writing off of the vehicle car loan scheme have been a move to induce MPs to vote for the National Budget?
The MPs’ financial position is not peculiar to them alone.
They may deserve some kind of cushioning, but not at the expense of the people they represent in the House of Assembly.
The fact that other MPs elsewhere are well remunerated does not also make their position peculiar at all.
The people deserve better from their representatives. We are aware that the MPs will defend their position, but we believe in future there should be a separate institution that grants loans and allowances.