Audit finds non-civil servants occupying government houses

Harare – The Zimbabwe government has unearthed a scam in which former cabinet ministers and politicians are living in state-owned houses at a time the country’s new coalition regime is forced to rent expensive accommodation for its officials.

National Housing Minister Fidelis Mhashu said that there are deliberate efforts by some senior ZANU PF officials to hide information pertaining to state of government houses in order for them to live illegally in these houses.

He said his ministry carried out an audit to find out who was occupying which house and whether that person was entitled to that house.

“Although my ministry has carried out an audit in Harare, we have discovered that a lot of houses are not being accounted for as they are being abused by those in ZANU PF who are not supposed to be living there,” he said.

He also said he was facing resistance from some ZANU PF and former senior government officials who are against the idea of being evicted from government houses even though they are no longer serving in government.

Among those still illegally occupying government houses are the former Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs Abigail Damasane and two former Deputy Education Ministers, Titus Maluleke and Isaiah Shumba.

Maluleke is now the provincial governor for Masvingo.

The three former ministers have since been served with letters of eviction.

Mhashu said the audit has also discovered that a senior ZANU PF official, Stalin Mau Mau was occupying one of the government houses.

Mau Mau has never been a government official. He has since moved out of the house.

Some houses, which were fully furnished have since been vandalised of the furniture, which include stoves and fridges and left in a poor state, the audit found.

“Most ministers are failing to get houses and even I as the minister responsible for allocating houses can’t get one,” Mhashu said.

He said his ministry was going to carry out an audit to find out the correct position on the state of the government houses and flush out illegal tenants.

The Parliament of Zimbabwe pampered the Speaker, Lovemore Moyo, for 12 months by booking him into executive suites in the world-famous elegance of the Meikles Hotel in Harare, it has been reported.

A Zanu PF website Zimbabwe Guardian newspaper last month reported that Parliament forked out a total of $6 000 a month for the comfort of Moyo, whose own home is in the second city of Bulawayo.

It is reported that Moyo stayed in the sumptuous ambience of the Meikles since his election to the position of Speaker of the House at the end of August 2008.

He only checked out at the beginning of September after Parliament secured a house for him at a rental of US$1 800 per month, a saving of $4 200 of his monthly bill at the Meikles.

Renting a house for the Speaker right from the beginning would have saved Parliament a total of $50 400 over the year.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is still staying at his modest Strathaven home seven months after his appointment because President Robert Mugabe has refused him permission to move to a state-owned residence.

The issue of the Prime Minister’s residence is said to be the tip of the iceberg as several former Zanu PF ministers are allegedly refusing to vacate government houses in Borrowdale and Gunhill to make way for new MDC ministers.

As a result government has been incurring hotel bills running into thousands of US dollars as it struggles to secure accommodation for new ministers from outside Harare, documents at hand show.

Tsvangirai is entitled to stay at Zimbabwe House that was traditionally the home of prime ministers. The house was also Mugabe’s official residence after independence in 1980.

MDC sources said Mugabe told Tsvangirai that he cannot move to the state property because he keeps his things there, while others said the Prime Minister was told that the drainage system was not working.

"He (Mugabe) does not want Tsvangirai as his neighbour," said a source. State House is across the road and is traditionally the home of Zimbabwe’s head of state, although Mugabe now only uses it for ceremonial occasions.

MDC-T spokesperson, Nelson Chamisa said Tsvangirai was still staying at his Strathaven home "contrary to our understanding of the inclusive arrangement where the prime minister is supposed to have an official residence."

Tsvangirai is not the only new member of the inclusive government affected by an accommodation crisis.

It emerged last week that State Enterprises Minister Joel Gabbuza who comes from Binga, Deputy Youth Minister Thamsanqa Mahlangu and co-Home Affairs Minister Giles Mutsekwa had incurred a debt of US$39 895 at the Crowne Plazza hotel because they cannot get alternative accommodation.

The ministers incurred the bills between February and July 29 but government reportedly said it would only pay for their stay until April 7.

"The government said it would pay the hotel bills from the time they checked into the hotel to April 7 and after that the ministers were going to pay for themselves. We asked their ministries to pay the debt but they are refusing," said an official at the hotel.

Government paid US$4 525 for Mutsekwa, US$2 135 for Gabbuza and US$634
for Mahlangu.

"We have already engaged debt collectors in this case because we want our money," he said.

Last week, the minister said there was no way they would pay the bills because they were on government business.

Gabbuza said it was not their responsibility to find accommodation and said some former ministers and senior civil servants were occupying houses where they were not supposed to stay.

"I don’t stay in Harare, and there was no way I was going to stay in the streets. We all know that we were being paid US$100 a month and houses in Harare cost more than $500," he said.

"We need to know what the government is doing about those houses. We were kept in the hotel because they said they were looking for our accommodation."

A source in the Prime Minister’s Officer said the issue of accommodation for the new ministers was a hot potato and there were fears some officials were taking advantage of the new dispensation to abuse state property.

"There were houses that were built for the Commonwealth Heads of government Meeting (Chogm) in 1991 and are being used by ministers coming from out of Harare," said the source.

"But there is a lot of resistance from Zanu PF people who are refusing to make way for deserving people."

Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo referred questions to National Housing and Social Amenities Minister Fidelis Mhashu.

But a Zanu PF minister said:  "It does not mean every minister can go and stay in those houses.

"I have been a minister for a long time but I have never stayed in any government house.

"What we can only do for those ministers who stay out of Harare is to give them stands."