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Sparing With Food Assistance, Harare Splashes Out On Luxury Cars For Top Officials

11 September 2007

The government of Zimbabwe last week earmarked some US$11 million for food aid to an increasingly hungry population - but meanwhile it's splashing out more than US$20 million to buy luxury vehicles and SUVs for ministers and members of parliament.

Harare’s allocation of Z$347 billion dollars for food aid in the supplementary budget it took to parliament last week will only pay for about 36,000 metric tonnes of grain out of the estimated 450,000 to 500,000 tonnes needed to feed the country for the next three months - in other words less than 10% of the fourth-quarter requirement.

That Z$347 billion translates into some US$11million dollars at the official exchange rate of Z$30,000 for one U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, grain on the world market is running between US$300 and US$350 per metric tonne, agricultural experts said.

The government said it’s targeting some 600,000 households, or some 3.6 million people, according to the experts, who figure six people per household.

While that food aid allocation does not seem likely to go far, International Emergency Adviser Zvidzai Muburutse of ActionAid told reporter Patience Rusere that Harare will bend backwards to provide food to ensure support ahead of next year’s elections.

However, agriculture spokesman Renson Gasela of the Movement for Democratic Change faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai said that whatever the government does the food situation will remain dire, because there is still a shortfall in donor assistance that must offset most of the country’s nutritional deficit.

Meanwhile, Harare is importing vehicles for the president, his ministers, members of the house and senate, and traditional chiefs at a cost of more than US$17million .

Adding in another 150 vehicles for army officers – Toyota SUVs and Mercedes cars – plus vehicles for the ruling party election campaign, the total being spent on vehicles for senior officials approaches something like US$25 million, more than twice what’s been allocated in the official budget for food aid for the rest of this year.

Finance Ministry sources said President Robert Mugabe’s top of the line Mercedes Benz S600 cost around US$250,000. His ministers are getting Mercedes Benz E240 sedans and Toyota Land Cruiser Prados. An official at the Zimbabwe Motor Company said Mercedes E240s cost some 53,000 euros each, or around US$73,000.

Senators and house members must settle for vehicles costing less than US$30 000.

Director Godfrey Kanyenze of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that with an election on the horizon, and factionalism on the rise inside ZANU-PF, President Mugabe will give priority to appeasing senior ruling party officials.

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