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Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube arrives at the Parliament of Zimbabwe to present the national annual budget, a few days after the introduction of a new currency in the country, in Harare, on November 14, 2019. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

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Cash-strapped govt cuts off Covid-19 allowances

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ABOUT 60 000 vulnerable urban families hard hit by the ravaging effects of Covid-19 last received cushion allowances from government in September 2020 as Treasury has no resources to finance the social safety net. 

PROUD MOYO
Government, earlier this year, reviewed the payout from a measly ZW$300 to ZW$1 500 per household of five people. 

In 2020, a social support cash transfer grant of ZW$600 million was announced but it had little to no effect due to the high cost of basic commodities.

In his food deficit mitigation programme and Covid-19 relief grants presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, on Monday this week, Labour minister Paul Mavima said his office last disbursed Covid-19 allowances in September 2020. 

“We have not received funds for this programme in 2021. However, cash transfers for the 23 child protection supported districts continue. Allowances for cash transfers have been raised from $300 to $1 500 per month per household per five people,” he said. 

Mavima said there was no Treasury authority to extend the Covid-19 allowances beyond December 2020. 

Zimbabwe was plunged into a strict level four national lockdown in January 2021 as Covid-19 decimated lives, claiming three ministers, namely Sibusiso Busi Moyo (Foreign Affairs), Joel Biggie Matiza (Transport and Infrastructure Development) and Ellen Gwaradzimba (Manicaland provincial affairs minister). Agriculture minister Perrence Shiri succumbed to the coronavirus last year. 

As business came to a grinding halt due to the national lockdown, 310 000 individuals drawn from the informal sector were badly affected. 

The 60 000 families headed by children and the elderly largely relied on government Covid-19 allowances but the cash-strapped state has not been able to finance the programme. 

There were widespread complaints over the paltry ZW$1 500 allowance which cannot feed a family of six. A consumer basket for low-income families in high-density suburbs costs around ZW$21 000, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe. 

Comparatively, South Africa through its Social Security Agency (Sassa) disbursed R300 social relief, R440 child support grant and R500 per caregiver.

Mavima said Covid-19 cushion allowance beneficiaries were drawn from local authorities, vendors’ associations, informal sectors groups, women’s organisations and small to medium enterprises. 

“All applicants were subjected to a means test and verification process by our ministry staff. Politicians and other interest groups referred potential applicants to our offices and these would also go through a means test and verification process,” he said.

“Legislators played an oversight role and we did not expect them to be involved in the direct implementation of government programmes.”

Apart from vulnerable groups who were supposed to receive cash transfers, there are about 3.5 million people who require food assistance from the government and donors such as the World Food Programme. 

Mavima told Parliament that it was fundamentally the responsibility of the government to provide social protection to citizens to manage “vulnerability associated with exogenous shocks”. 

Due to biting food insecurity as a result of poor agricultural seasons, the government and donors launched a food deficit mitigation strategy in 2011. 

The programme is meant to avail free food assistance to people living with disabilities, chronically ill, older persons and child-headed families. 

Mavima said a total of 735 455 households have been receiving free grain as part of efforts to avert food insecurity in both rural and urban communities. 

“In line with the food deficit mitigation programme policy, cabinet has approved the retargeting exercise for 2021-2022 cycle.

“We will stop grain distribution end of April, which coincides with the peak of the hunger period. Distributions will only commence after the 2021 Zimvac (Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee) results are published and retargeting done. The ministry will, however, be on the lookout for distress calls even during the period of retargeting,” he said. 

Last year, the government announced a ZW$18 billion economic recovery and stimulus package for formal businesses to recover from Covid-19, but there is no information on how the money was disbursed and impacted on industry.

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