By Sandra Mandizvidza
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
“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 whose mobile phone was unreachable yesterday.
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.”
spotted by RS