VVIPs hospital project raises stink



THERE is something amusing about the United States politics. It is how each party has factions based on ideology. President Joseph Biden is having sleepless nights trying to contain a faction of his party — democratic socialists headed by affable independent senator Bernie Sanders.

Biden became the compromise Democratic party nominee as funders and the establishment worked hard to block the ascendancy of the socialist Sanders. For a moment, the democrats and their arch enemies Republicans shared a position, doing everything to stop a socialist from entering the White House.

Who is Sanders?

He is a 79-year-old politician and activist who has served as senator for Vermont since 2007. Sanders was also a representative for the State at large congressional district from 1991 to 2007.

All in all, to date Sanders has been at the Capitol Hill for 30 years. He is proudly a socialist in a neo-liberal country. Sanders’ politics has been about minimum wage, free tertiary education, more tax for the rich and green climate, hence he is referred to as an activist.

In 2016, Sanders ran for the Democratic nomination and was cheated by the party establishment which favoured Hillary Clinton. Despite the party-engineered loss, the average American voter became more interested in progressive democratic socialism ideology. Sanders energised a new electoral base for the party.

Other well-known democratic socialists in Sanders’ faction are Elizabeth Ann Warren (72) a senator from Massachusetts, serving since 2013 and a former law professor. She is renowned for her 2020 campaign for nomination on the platform to overhaul taxation and having the rich pay more.

From the two, socialism may seem like an old people’s club — an ideology in its sunset. However, this is not true. A new generation of socialists is emerging and one of its leading lights is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (31), popularly known by her initials AOC. She is a politician and activist who has represented New York’s 14th congressional district since 2019.

AOC has championed for police reform in her debates particularly after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white officer. She has also raised the issue of immigrants and the cancellation of student debts.

It is this clarity of thought that is missing in the Zimbabwean context. We have many politicians across the divide who are ideologically vacuous. We have many who are playing the populist game or have abetted neo-liberalism without understanding what they are doing except that they debated or voted as their caucus had directed.

Last month, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube presented his mid-term fiscal policy review statement. Ncube revised the economic growth rate to 7,8% from 7,4%. He further told Parliament that he was not putting any supplementary budget or look at taxes.

During the ensuing growth, no one in the House cared to ask about jobs bled by COVID-19-induced lockdowns. No one queried his growth figures that are not only in sync with regional growth rates but also the World Bank and International Monetary Fund projections.

Ncube could have tampered with  the figures or he missed the picture as he wore rose-tinted spectacles.

There is something that was tucked inside the statement and was never read in the House. While I was reading the statement for an analysis, I stumbled upon the seemingly innocuous paragraph.

Paragraph 303 of the statement reads: “Construction of Manyame VVIP hospital is progressing well with an amount of $269,5 million having been availed to the project during 2021.

“This has seen the first-floor deck being completed while plumbing and electrical works on the second and ground floor are underway with the project now expected to be completed by October 2021.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has a fancy project for the VVIPs. They are going to have their own military hospital where they don’t mix with the lumpen proletariat who vote for them. From the statement, it is clear that the stated cost is for the structure, not furnishings.

We can only speculate that the sophisticated medical equipment may be a donation from any of the three countries that have been friendly to Zimbabwe of late — China, Russia or India. Or alternatively, soon we may hear of a structured debt to acquire the same equipment.

Members of Parliament did not debate this, so we remain in the dark. However, what is more shocking is why a separate VVIP hospital when a wing could have been constructed at University of Zimbabwe Medical School based at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals. This could have been cost effective and at the same time establishing a health eco-system.

It would also mean the student doctors would have access to learn and use state-of-the-art medical equipment. Situating it at Parirenyatwa would also have meant that many ordinary citizens would have had access to the health facility. However, true to neo-liberal tenets of privatisation, the government has privatised health for the VVIPs at a cost to be borne by the tax-paying public.

Is it not time that MPs should debate these matters urgently? Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the privatisation of the health sector has risen astronomically. Ironically, when we were privatising health, other progressive governments like in Spain were temporarily nationalising private hospitals so that the citizens could get access to medical care.

It is now clear that the administration is poised for privatisation of health and education. On the education front, private schools have continued to offer online lessons yet public schools are completely shutdown, with no learning taking place. Parents with children set to write public exams have been forced to seek private tutors to prepare their kids.

Soon many parents and citizens would have normalised the privatisation of public goods such as health and education.

Where are our parliamentarian Sanders, Warren or AOC? Let the MPs prove who they stand for — capital or citizens? For now, the VVIPs stand with capital and privatisation.