HARARE – Zimbabwe's profligate government officials blew a whopping $35 million on phone calls in 2015 alone, calling into serious question the commitment of President Robert Mugabe’s under-pressure administration to a judicious management of its dwindling revenues.
The scandalous news comes at a time that many government functions and critical social services are grinding to a halt due to a lack of funds, while Zimbabweans are being called upon to be patient with the State and to tighten their belts as the local economy continues on its precipitous decline.
Documents in the possession of the Daily News reveal that the government also blew millions of dollars more in fuel allowances and other wasteful allocations, an unhealthy state of affairs that the State is only now moving to mitigate.
An angry senior government official described the stunning wastages yesterday as “disgraceful”, adding that the money could have been used to support the public health sector which had run out of drugs and was “grinding to a halt” due to lack of funding.
“I’m appalled by this disgraceful mismanagement. To think that so many sick children and pregnant mothers, for example, are dying because there is supposedly no money for hospitals breaks my heart. And then you see that millions (of dollars) are being wasted all over, it’s a disgrace.
“What is painful is that this fraud and corruption, because that is really what it is, runs from top to bottom, including ministers, which makes it difficult to deal with it. In fact, many of us who try to stop this madness are branded saboteurs or opposition players,” the official said.
Another whistle-blower claimed that the money spent on phone calls by bureaucrats was “a pittance compared to what we see being wasted by ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and their deputies on so-called fuel allowances and other perks”.
“The thieving ways of this government’s selfish stewards defies logic and human comprehension. And mind you, all this is happening despite the fact that the State cannot currently pay salaries on time or service its debt which is ballooning by the day,” he said.
In a letter dated April 8, that was sent to government departmental heads by the secretary to the Treasury, Willard Manungo — and which the Daily News has seen — permanent secretaries’ mobile phone allocations have since been revised down to $150 a month, while those of directors are now pegged at $100 per month: figures that many feel are still way too high considering the dire state of the economy.
According to the same circular, fixed telephone services exceeded budget by wide margins, forcing the broke government to seek a rationalisation of non-priority expenditure.
“Consumption of fixed telephone services continues to exceed budgeted expenditures. This is evidenced by an annual bill of $34,9 million in 2015 against an appropriation of $13,1 million.
“In order to avoid the continued accumulation of arrears, alignment of consumption with budgeted capacity becomes inescapable,” the circular said further.
Another source said so rife was the abuse of telephones at government departments that hundreds of millions of dollars had allegedly been lost to the scourge since 2009.
“This is why government line ministries have now been ordered to procure and install Private Branch Exchange (PABX) systems which have in-built functionalities that control usage through call monitoring and call restriction levels, the deadline for which is 30 June 2016,” the source said.
Apart from that, and working on recommendations from the Auditor General Mildred Chiri, Manungo’s circular also commendably expressed concern with the rampant abuse of public vehicles by staff “during public holidays, weekends, and after working hours”.
“In tandem with such usage levels, the maintenance and fuel bills have been progressively increasing and has equally resulted in a build-up of outstanding payment arrears to service providers.
“Accordingly, with immediate effect, accounting officers must ensure that all government pool/project vehicles are parked at the work stations or the nearest police station after designated hours, during weekends and public holidays,” the circular reads.
Another well-placed source, while commending Treasury for moving to deal with the abuse of resources within the public sector, claimed that one of “the biggest abusers of resources” was the Office of the President, where he said there was “zero transparency”.
“While Treasury is trying its very best, there are continuing inconsistencies in the setting of fuel allocation levels to different ministers, with one of the biggest abusers of the system being the Office of the President.
“To its credit, Treasury has attempted to set limits. For example, 500 litres of fuel per month is now the cap that has been set for permanent secretaries, while a principal director will get 400 litres. While this is still way too high, it is a move in the right direction,” the source said.