GOVERNMENT owes the faction-riddled Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) close to US$5 million, which the party was entitled to receive under the Political Parties Finance Act.
The Act stipulates that a party that garners at least five percent of the vote in national elections is eligible to receive public funds. Due to the liquidity crunch, government has been unable to release funds to political parties that would have achieved the five percent threshold.
Resultantly, the main political parties have been forced to rely on handouts from generous individuals, companies, and private organisations.
The US$5 million might, however, turn out to be another source of contestation in the MDC-T where Morgan Tsvangirai, the party president, and Tendai Biti, the secretary-general, are claiming leadership of the party. Tsvangirai's faction this week said it will rely on its members to bankroll its elective congress to be held in October.
"We are not as poor as Biti and (his) supporters would like to believe. We will be able to fund the congress. This will not be the first time that members are paying (for the congress) as the MDC-T gets its money from subscriptions and the Political Parties fund. The government, however, is withholding our money, because in terms of the law we can only get money from government and we are owed close to US$5 million," said MDC-T national party spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora.
MDC-T members pay a monthly subscription of US$1 each. The last MDC-T elective congress was held in Bulawayo in April 2011 and attracted foreign dignitaries, among them Raila Odinga, Kenya's former Prime Minister. It is not clear yet if any outside guests would coming to this year's congress, whose date is yet to be finalised. Traditional financiers that include Western nations and non-governmental organisations that have been sympathetic to the party since its formation in 1999 appear to have been spooked by the ongoing turmoil in the country's largest opposition party and are unlikely to pour in millions of dollars into its coffers.
The funding crisis in the MDC-T has worsened following its split into two formations; one led by Tsvangirai and another led by Biti. Theresa Makone, the acting treasurer-general of the MDC-T, said the party has over a million members who should be able to support party activities including the upcoming congress.
"We are funded the same way that parties the world over are funded and that is by its own members. If we cannot be funded by our own members we are not serious and would be unable to carry out our activities. We cannot be a party that depends on charity," said Makone.
She said the cost of the congress was still being tabulated but would not cost more than US$3 million to host.