Zimbabwe’s Elected Officials Can’t Afford Their Offices – Literally

As Zimbabwe’s economic crisis worsens, parliamentarians are increasingly subsidizing their own costs.

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Zimbabwe’s Elected Officials Can’t Afford Their Offices – Literally

Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe

Unganai Dickson Tarusenga (left), a parliamentarian, works in his car regularly because he doesn’t get enough money from the government for an office space. Daniel Joseni, a volunteer, is pictured with him.

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CHITUNGWIZA, ZIMBABWE — Unganai Dickson Tarusenga has been a member of the Parliament of Zimbabwe since 2013.

He still doesn’t have an office.

“I basically work from anywhere, usually my home or from the car because I do not have an office to work from,” he says. “My wife assists me in my job as my secretary.”

Tarusenga is a member of MDC Alliance opposition group, the largest opposition party in Zimbabwe. He says he gets what amounts to $189 in bond notes each month to spend on his expenses. (The market value of those notes is just under $50.)

That’s a pittance, especially as prices skyrocket throughout the country due to ongoing economic collapse.

“That money is worthless,” he says.

Tarusenga’s problem is a common one among elected officials in Zimbabwe. Parliamentarians say they have no offices. Some even work from their cars. It’s common to lack basic supplies, including stationery.

Jessie Fungayi Majome, a lawyer and former member of Parliament, known as an MP in Zimbabwe, says parliamentarians subsidize their own work, often to a degree that hinders their ability to serve their constituencies.

“There was zero administrative support for MPs to execute their mandate, zero budget and staff for offices, no offices at all either at Parliament or in the constituency including for communications, telephones, data, transport in the constituency, stationery, printing, research, meeting organizing, venues and facilities,” she says.

l basically work from anywhere, usually my home or from the car because l do not have an office to work from. My wife assists me in my job as my secretary.

Majome says she paid a staff member out of her own pocket. Her law office carried the cost of the parliamentary office she established. She says she couldn’t hold quarterly feedback meetings and other gatherings for which she’d planned.

When she established a constituency development fund, she says she bore the cost of administering it personally.

“Sadly, the public has incredible expectations and misconceptions of what MPs must do and what they get,” she says.

Kennedy Chokuda, Parliament’s official clerk, says the parliamentary budget comes through from the national budget, which he notes is perpetually inadequate.

“Resources will never be sufficient for any organization,” he says. “What is important is how you prioritise the use of those resources.”

Chokuda says the budget for Parliament amounted to about $20 million three years ago, but is now $101 million. Still, he says, parliamentarians require a total of $163 million to do everything they need to do.

For a while, money came from the United Nations Development Programme to pay for offices for parliamentarians. That funding ended seven years ago, Chokuda says.

This problem isn’t new, and it’s not limited to people who support Zimbabwe’s opposition groups. Even politicians who are members of the ruling party say they were in the same boat when they were in elected office.

Nyasha Chikwinya, a member of the ZANU PF political party, which has been in power in Zimbabwe for decades, served in Parliament in the 1990s. She says she used her own money to ensure that work was done.

“l am a land developer, so l would take my own personal money to develop my constituency and subsidize my work as a parliamentarian,” she says.

Linda Mujuru, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.