DEFENCE minister Oppah Muchinguri sensationally told Parliament yesterday that morale among members of the Zimbabwe National Army had hit rock bottom as a result of the failing economy and that many were now tempted to engage in corrupt activities to make ends meet.
Muchinguri was appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs led by acting chairperson Chiredzi South MP Kalisto Gwanetsa (Zanu-PF), where she outlined a myriad of challenges soldiers are facing in the discharge of their duties, including hunger, inadequate transport and obsolete machinery.
The challenges, Muchinguri said, had also impacted negatively on efforts by the army to effectively assist the police in enforcing COVID-19 national lockdown regulations, insisting that temptations for corruption come in situations where security forces do not have food.
"As I have indicated that at our borders, we have a stretch of 3 000 kilometres and really, when you are not well-resourced in terms of transport and also food, this challenge that you mention of the allegations that you level, temptation comes in some situations," Muchinguri said.
She was responding to allegations that soldiers and police officers were demanding bribes to facilitate passage for returnees sneaking into the country without being screened.
Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe three weeks ago named the opposition, churches, civic society organisations, senior government and military officials in a plot to oust President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
There has been speculation that, Mnangagwa, who came to power through a coup in November 2017, would also be deposed through a coup by soldiers unhappy with the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic situation in a decade, characterised by hyperinflation, liquidity challenges and shortage of basic goods, observers say were a result of bad governance and policy inconsistency.
But Muchinguri yesterday blamed the deplorable situation in the military barracks on sanctions, before pleading with the committee to make resources available to her ministry in order to restore the dignity of the military.
She added: "As I have already alluded to, that because we are not adequately resourced, our soldiers do not have the rations that must accrue to them, hence the temptation where they require food. We have heard about it, we are investigating to establish where this is happening."
The Defence minister said soldiers were not only victims of hunger, but also at high risk of contracting the deadly COVID-19 as they do not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
She said Treasury had not availed adequate funds to her ministry to buy PPE for soldiers.
"Constraints such as shortage of PPE are serious challenges to their effectiveness and safety. Inadequate funding for food, transport and fuel which became perennial after the imposition of illegal sanctions, also take its toll on both the morale of the troops and effectiveness," Muchinguri, who is also the Zanu-PF national chairperson, said.
"Shortage of institutional accommodation further complicates matters because under such circumstances, ZDF [Zimbabwe Defence Forces] members are supposed to stay away from their families to avoid transmitting the disease, but this is not possible due to shortage of barrack accommodation.
"The lack of a military hospital is making the situation even worse.
"To all intents and purposes, they do not go on strike when others go on strike. They are the ones brought in to bridge that gap. This is always the case especially with the Ministry of Health and Child Care medical personnel who are almost always on strike."
Added Muchinguri: "With regards to challenges, the main challenge confronting ZDF in fighting COVID-19 is lack of resources. The scarcity of funds for normal operations of ZDF and other security arms is a matter that has been brought before this august committee many times before.
"Zimbabwe has been under economic sanctions and an arms embargo for the last 20 years. These illegal restrictions have had a negative impact on the conditions of service for members of the ZDF.
"The state of ZDF buildings and other infrastructure has deteriorated as a consequence, aged equipment, motor vehicles, arms and munitions have not been replaced for years.
"These factors have reduced the effectiveness of ZDF and other security apparatus and the advent of COVID-19 has not made matters any better."
She said it remained a tall order to the ministry to deliver on expectations with an allocation that is hardly adequate for the soldiers' daily routines.
"The Ministry of Defence has three main cost centres under the new budgeting framework namely defence and security, war veterans and policy and administration.
"The total annual allocated resources for these programmes in the current year are $3,112 billion. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ZDF submitted a budget of $500 million to cover three months of COVID-19 operations, but Treasury has released about $100 million which means ZDF has had to partly finance its COVID-19 operations from its own budget."
She said with the continuous escalation of prices of food, services and other essentials, this meant the ZDF budget could be exhausted by the mid-year.
She denied allegations that soldiers on patrol in communities where they are assisting police in enforcing lockdown regulations had become notorious for harassing and beating up people, saying the ZDF was very professional.