HARARE – Opposition MPs want Parliament, through the portfolio committees of Finance and Agriculture, to probe First Lady Grace Mugabe on what they say is her abuse of public property — in the wake of her ongoing “donation” of government-sourced farming equipment to Zanu PF supporters only.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa disclosed that the agricultural equipment being distributed by Grace was part of a $98 million loan facility extended to Zimbabwe by Brazil under the Zimbabwe-Brazil food production programme meaning that she is giving away State property.
And while Grace has told Zanu PF supporters that it was as a result of her benevolence that she was giving away the equipment, Mnangagwa insisted that she was merely “handing over” and not “donating” it when he was quizzed by MDC MPs in Parliament.
The opposition legislators also questioned the propriety of Grace distributing State property in a patently partisan manner, but did not get any cogent answers as National Assembly Speaker, Jacob Mudenda, prevented them from probing Mnangagwa further.
Section 308 (1) of the Constitution defines public property as “any property owned or held by the State or any institution or agency of the government, including provincial and local tiers of government, statutory bodies and government-controlled entities”.
Chief whip for former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, Innocent Gonese, told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that his party would lobby for the calling of Grace to Parliament to explain herself, in line with the august House’s oversight mandate on State property and assets.
“What she did cannot be acceptable to any right-thinking citizen because it was not procedural and constitutional since the first lady is not a public official.
“So, we are going to consult our parliamentary caucus to see how we can make use of the House to correct this anomaly,” the unimpressed Gonese said.
He added that his party would be guided by section 299 (1) of the Constitution which provided that, “Parliament must monitor and oversee expenditure by the State and all Commissions and institutions and agencies of government at every level, including statutory bodies, government-controlled entities, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities”.
UK-based constitutional law expert, Alex Magaisa, weighed in saying even Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and his Agriculture counterpart Joseph Made, who are the custodians of the State property under the spotlight, should be made to account for the equipment.
Magaisa argued that the loan which was used to source the equipment fell within the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) which was the account “into which must be paid all fees, taxes and borrowings and all other revenues of the Government, whatever their source …”.
“The State and public officials under whose charge the equipment is held are the custodians of this public property and were expected to safeguard and deal with it in accordance with the Constitution.
“Thus the government, and in particular the ministers of Finance or Agriculture, who are the custodians of such equipment under the Brazilian loan, have a duty to ensure that the property is not ‘misapplied or misused’,” Magaisa said.
“Whether or not the property has been ‘misapplied or misused’ is a question of fact and depends on the interpretation of events.
“It is arguable that the appropriation of public property and its distribution by a person who is not a public official under the guise of a personal or party donation is a misapplication or misuse of public property,” he added, saying that in this case, government and public officers allowed public property to be distributed by a private individual”.
He said despite Mnangagwa’s attempts to distinguish between “handing over” and “donating”, still it is was wrong.
“To the extent that there was no disclosure that this equipment was in fact public property from the Brazilian loan to the nation, the whole charade could be regarded as a gross and fraudulent misrepresentation tantamount to criminal abuse of public property,” Magaisa said.
He also said there was no constitutional or legal basis upon which Grace could handle, distribute, donate or hand over public property given that she was not a public official.
“It might even be argued that those authorising or permitting her to distribute public property are failing and or neglecting their constitutional duties as public officers.
“It is unconstitutional and illegal to allow a private individual to masquerade as a philanthropist or benefactor in regard to property that is at law, public property. That the distribution has been done under the auspices of the party or in a personal capacity only exacerbates the illegality,” Magaisa said.
He further suggested that since some laws had not yet been aligned to the Constitution, the auditor-general could, in the meantime, order the taking of measures to rectify any defects in the management and safeguarding of public funds and public property.Dailynews