AGGRESSIVE surges in annual inflation are battering Zimbabwe’s currency, frustrating legislators’ undertaking to utilise the constituency development fund (CDF) allocations on community projects that can help alleviate a myriad of crises tormenting millions of people.
This comes out clearly in this Zimbabwe Independent investigation — carried out in partnership with non-profit investigative journalism unit Information for Development Trust — which also exposes how red tape has held back Members of Parliament (MPs) from accessing CDF and deploying it before rioting inflation overran a currency that has been in free fall since 2019.
Ravages of inflation
Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rocketed to 176% last month, from 86% in May, giving glimpses into factors behind its protracted economic crisis. The figure is the highest in Africa.
So dire has been the effect of hyperinflation that in the past five years, some MPs in Harare Metropolitan province abandoned applying for the package, according to interviews with the legislators.
They said late disbursements due to red tape meant that by the time funds, which are extended in Zimbabwe dollars, are released for their constituencies, the values would have been eroded by inflation.
When Harare East MP Tendai Biti applied for funding worth US$40 000 in 2019 to expand a health facility in his constituency, the equivalent of ZW$23 million at the time was enough to cover the costs.
He told the Independent recently that this amount was now only worth less than US$4 000 following waves of relentless exchange rate fragilities, hyperinflation and a stubborn price riot.
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He is one of many legislators in the province, who shared their frustrations over CDF disbursements in Zimbabwe dollars.
The package was introduced by government 13 years ago to support developmental efforts at constituency levels, while at the same time complementing other programmes and projects launched at national level.
From the national budget allocation, each Member of Parliament is given US$50 000 upon applying for these funds.
Legislators representing 210 constituencies have access to CDF, which is allocated by Treasury.
However, if they do not apply for funding within specified periods, or fail to acquit receipts from previous allocations, they are disqualified from accessing funds.
Harare province, where the Independent tracked eight MPs, faces multiple problems, many of them perennial.
In many parts of the province, water taps ran dry over a decade ago, and citizens depend on shallow wells sunk in open spaces, many of them contaminated, for the domestic requirements.
These wells have been one of the driving forces behind epidemic outbreaks, like cholera. Harare City Council has declared a cholera outbreak and put citizens on high alert.
How they performed
The investigations also assessed how legislators performed in the past five years, as their terms of office come to an end ahead of elections on August 23.
MDC-A MP for Mt Pleasant Samuel Banda, MDC–A MP for Sunningdale Winnie Kankuni, MDC-A MP for Southerton Peter Moyo, Zanu PF MP for Harare South Tongai Mnangagwa, Mbare MP Starman Chamisa and Borrowdale MP Alan Markham were tracked.
These MPs have served the full five-term.
Outgoing Harare East MP Tendai Biti, who all entered parliament under MDC-A ticket in 2018 and then Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in March 2022, was also included in the investigation.
Biti was expelled from the National Assembly in March 2021 after being recalled from parliament by their former party, the People’s Democratic Party.
Under the Zimbabwe law, if an MP quits their party, or is expelled, they lose their seat.
He was re-elected under CCC in a by-election held on March 26 last year.
Kankuni said she used the CDF package to construct a toilet at Sunningdale 3 shopping centre.
“That was my greatest achievement,” she told the Independent.
“The problem is that CDF funds were released in Zimbabwe dollars. Sometimes funds would come after the budget was wiped out by inflation.”
In 2018, Tongai Mnangagwa said he would drill 96 boreholes in Harare South to address the water crisis. When the Independent visited the area, not much has changed. Harare South residents are still living on the edge of epidemics.
Efforts to speak to Mnangagwa were futile.
“Right now, I have become very busy with campaigns,” Mnangagwa, a relative to the President said after several efforts to get an interview. Harare Residents Trust Committee member for Ushewokunze area Nyatai Gladys Tungwarara said at least four boreholes sunk since 2018. "We had several boreholes drilled but we had various stakeholders involved, who include the local authority, the ruling Zanu PF party and some donors, so we really can’t tell if it was the CDF funds or the MP’s initiatives."
In Southerton, Moyo only drilled one borehole, according to residents, while in Mount Pleasant, Banda constructed vending stalls.
Hellen Dingane, the deputy clerk of Parliament who also doubles as chairperson of the CDF committee, declined to give details of how the fund was used in the past five years.
“As we are approaching elections, we cannot easily release information on how MPs applied for CDF,” she said.
“It has become confidential. Who knows, you might want to use that information to de-campaign those MPs or their parties by saying, this MP A toilet at the Sunningdale 3 shopping centre constructed through CDF Mnangagwa for instance A toilet at the Sunningdale 3 shopping centre constructed through CDF did not apply for CDF so he under-performed.”
Biti said: “We wanted to expand a maternal clinic in Greendale, at a budget of approximately US$40 000.
“We had ZW$23 million, which is now equivalent to US$4 000. The project was also stalled by bureaucracy.
“We had to seek authority from council, which resulted in late disbursement of funds. Had the funds been released earlier, we could have been somewhere with the project,” Biti added.
Starman Chamisa said with the problems confronting CDF disbursements, it was easier for MPs to use their own funds.
“Sometimes you waste a lot of time following up on the (Zimbabwe dollar) CDF, which is not only tiresome but triggers squabbles in the constituency,” he said.
“So, I would rather pursue self-funded projects.” Combined Harare Residents Association spokesperson Reuben Akili said, legislators had brilliant ideas, but accessing CDF was a “nightmare”.
“We make follow-ups on projects under CDF, but the major excuse is the challenge in accessing funds,” he said.
Bureaucracy or mere mediocracy
The Independent can reveal that like Chamisa, many MPs threw in the towel and decided not to apply for CDF funding.
Temba Mliswa, the independent legislator for Norton said while he spearheaded refurbishment of roads and clinics in his constituency, he did not use the “meagre” CDF allocations.
But many others utilised this funding window to develop their constituencies.
In Beitbridge East constituency, legislator Albert Nguluvhe said he has been applying for CDF since 2018.
He has helped the community refurbish Tshabili Clinic and build classrooms at Kayanse Primary School and Vembe High School.
At Lutumba Secondary School, CDF funds were used to construct toilets.
A total of ZW$21,3 million was spent on the projects, against an allocation of ZW$23 million, covering the five years.
In Murewa North constituency, Daniel Garwe, a Zanu PF MP, used CDF to construct Machinjike clinic.
Gwarwe said he also completed construction of a science laboratory at Zaranyika Secondary School.
Njedza Primary School was constructed out of CDF funding, he said.
"If one is really committed to utilising the funds, inflation becomes secondary," Garwe said.
Performance vs Delivery
Apart from championing development projects, the role of MPs is to make laws. Parliament also performs executive oversight by scrunitising government policies, programmes and expenditure plans.
The investigation analysed how legislators participated in the Parliament vis a vis their performance in their constituencies.
The Independent looked at the legislators’ performance in the National Assembly by analysing parliamentary records from 2018 to 2022.
Biti, Zengeza West MP Job Sikhala, who has been incarceration since June 14 2022 and Markham emerged as the top performers, according to records in Hansard, a Parliament publication.
Tongai Mnangagwa and Starman Chamisa did not participate in any of the debates (see table) during the periods under review, while Kankuni and Moyo contributed once.
An example is the day when the second reading of the Electoral Amendment Bill broke records in this session. MPs sat for 10 hours on Thursday, May 18, only adjourning in the early hours of Friday, May 19. The Independent observed that 26 legislators contributed to the debate.
Opposition MPs were the major participants, with Innocent Gonese and Biti contributing 29 and 20 times respectively (see table).
Markham was among top contributors, while Chamisa, Banda, Moyo, Kankuni and Mnangagwa did not contribute.
Kankuni told the Independent that she did not always get the opportunity to contribute.
“We are 250 in parliament,” she said. “Certainly, you can’t have an opportunity to speak every time considering the limited business time.”
This investigation revealed that legislators who participated more in parliament were also easily accessible in their constituencies.
Mount Pleasant’s Ward 7 Residents Association leader David Panganai said he failed to meet Banda throughout his term of office despite making efforts to bring him on board when addressing residents’ concerns.
“Residents in Ward 17 have not had an opportunity to interact with the MP. They inquire about his whereabouts on a daily basis. His number can’t get through,” Panganai said.
Southerton residents said Moyo was not easily accessible as his mobile phone was rarely reachable.
Efforts by the Independent to contact Banda and Moyo through their mobile phones were also in vain during the three months of this investigation.
On his Twitter handle where he is active, Banda can’t be messaged.
Kankuni, a Sunningdale resident, was accessible at home and her mobile phone.
Sikhala, also a resident in his constituency, was also easily accessible.
“He was always with the people. He attends funerals because he is one of the people who elected him. He has his people at heart to the extent of offering legal services as a lawyer pro bono,” Chitungwiza Residents Trust director Alice Kuveya said.
The investigation also revealed that some MPs were only ‘visitors’ to their constituencies.
Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba described the city’s MPs as “elitist”.
“The majority of them do not convene parliamentary feedback meetings,” Shumba said. “In our own investigations, a lot of MPs are comfortable dealing with their political party structures where they are not held accountable.
“Accessibility of MPs is a huge challenge. Trying to communicate with them through WhatsApp is a nightmare as most do not respond to messages, and if they do, it will be after some days.”
Social media has increasingly become an important campaigning tool by politicians since the Covid-19 outbreak where physical meetings were banned.
Politicians used social media platforms to make public announcements, contribute to issues of public interest and mobilise voters.
Legislators like Biti, Markham and Temba Mliswa, the MP for Norton, update their constituencies through their social media accounts almost daily.
Sikhala’s Twitter handle was active throughout, posting information about current affairs, until June 14 2022, when he was arrested and locked up.
Kankuni is not active on social media.
Chamisa was among those MPs, who are not very active on social media. The times when he is on, he is mainly speaking on politics in general.