PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has instructed Treasury to urgently buy a fleet of brand new vehicles for the police, including all-terrain troop carriers, water cannons, buses and equipment used by riot police, as the government prepares to enforce a renewed Covid-19 lockdown.

BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA

The cash-strapped government courted controversy in April when Finance minister Mthuli Ncube wrote to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) begging for financial assistance. The IMF has since spurned the overtures, citing Zimbabwe’s failure to implement economic and political reforms.

This urgent procurement request comes as the restive population gears for the July 31 demonstrations organised by the opposition to protest against corruption.

Senior government officials told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Mnangagwa, in a top-level meeting on Tuesday, instructed Ncube during a fiery debate on how to contain the Covid-19 pandemic to arm and equip the police so that they can effectively enforce the restriction measures.

Covid-19 cases have increased sharply in recent weeks, prompting public health experts to warn that the country was hitting a peak characterised by higher mortality and rising infection numbers.

Official sources said soon after Vice-President Kembo Mohadi — who chairs the national Covid-19 taskforce — presented a gloomy report, Mnangagwa asked Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe why the police were failing to effectively enforce the level two lockdown rules.

Mnangagwa, the sources said, expressed concern over the flooding of streets in major cities and towns, against the restrictive measures which prohibit “unnecessary movements”.

Kazembe is said to have replied that from his engagements with Zimbabwe Republic Police bosses, it had emerged that police were hampered from enforcing the lockdown rules by a lack of vehicles and fuel.

“Basically, there was an intense discussion over the proliferation of Covid-19 cases in the country over the past few weeks. All members agreed that the current level two was not sustainable and we needed to be stricter in enforcing the lockdown if we are to avoid a total catastrophe. Everyone blamed the police for the failure since people are now moving around so freely as if there is no deadly pandemic in our midst,” an official said.

“So as this discussion went on, the President himself took issue with Kazembe and asked him to explain what the problem really was. Mnangagwa said from what is obtaining on the ground, it appears there is general fatigue in terms of efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus. People are not following the lockdown rules and are highly mobile.

“In his response, Kazembe told the meeting that he has held meetings with senior police officers over the same concerns in the past two weeks and one thing which they have consistently raised as being the biggest hindrance was the shortage of vehicles and lack of fuel. He said ZRP bosses have indicated to him that they are relying on a handful of old trucks which suffer frequent breakdowns.

“He also said they indicated that they were in need of a new fleet of smaller cars in addition to trucks as well as related crowd control equipment in the event some turn rogue. Kazembe also told the meeting that the ZRP bosses indicated in their meetings that, in addition to the vehicles, they would also require constant supplies of fuel in order to be able to move around.

“So after he had spoken at length, the President then gave an instruction to Finance minister Mthuli Ncube to treat the matter as a case of emergency and avail funds for the purchase of the vehicles for the police and related equipment which allows them to enforce the lockdown regulations more efficiently. He (Mnangagwa) was saying it’s better to spend on these vehicles if they are going to help save lives. He also indicated that the informal sector will soon be closed since it has been identified as the biggest driver of Covid-19 cases.”

Officials further said consultations have already begun to establish how many vehicles the police would require and determine the amount of money to be released by Treasury.

Mnangagwa’s administration has been widely criticised for its misplaced priorities in terms of expenditure.
It continues to splurge millions of United States dollars on luxury vehicles for ministers, legislators, army officials and senior bureaucrats.

According to another source, Mnangagwa also took to task the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Paul Mavima over the situation in public hospitals and clinics, which are virtually deserted because of a long-running strike by nurses and doctors.

The government tried to appease health workers, along with the rest of its workforce, by increasing their monthly salaries by 50%, in addition to a monthly US$75 Covid-19 allowance for three months. Civil servants’ representatives rejected the offer as paltry and vowed to press on with the strike.

“Mnangagwa basically wanted to know why it was taking too long for Mavima to conclude the tripartite negotiations so that things can start moving. He indicated that government only offered them the US dollar allowance because he hoped that by then the TNF (Tripartite Negotiating Forum) negotiations would have been concluded,” the official said.

Mavima reportedly said in response that the negotiations between the government, labour and business are ongoing and would hopefully conclude soon.

“The minister said we are still in negotiations and an agreement was yet to be reached. He said he was still negotiating with civil servants’ representatives and hoped to conclude those negotiations as soon as possible,” the source said.