THE cash-strapped Douglas Mwonzora-led opposition MDC-T party has been forced to shut down its offices at the Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House after the Harare City Council cut water supplies over unpaid bills amounting to over $1,9 million.
The party has also failed to pay its workers since December, and they are now threatening to beat up top executives, including treasurer-general Tapiwa Mashakada, once they set foot at the offices.
Insiders told NewsDay that the opposition party yesterday held its standing committee meeting at a church premise in Hatfield which was hired due to the water crisis issue as well as fear of being beaten up by angry party vigilantes.
Sources further said that the party was battling financial woes, which resulted in failure to pay workers and pay for other services.
This follows accusations against Mwonzora that he connived with the party’s finance director, Toddy Mapingire, to loot about $6 million from party coffers, which he allegedly used to buy foreign currency on the parallel market.
The matter is still under police investigation.
Sources told NewsDay that the party failed to clear salary arrears for employees who had gone for months without being paid, despite having received $29 million from government as part of the grants under the Political Parties (Finance) Act.
“The water bill has been accumulating since the party offices were taken over by the MDC-T,” a senior party insider said.
“They can’t convene where there is no water, so they are hiring venues to conduct their meetings. Today (yesterday), they had their meeting in Hatfield at Baptist Church. They are not financially stable to settle the $1,9 million unpaid water bill.”
The source said disgruntled workers were plotting protests against party leaders, but they were being hindered by COVID-19 restrictions.
“There is gross misuse of party funds by the top leaders within the MDC-T,” one of the youths guarding the premises said.
“When the party got money from Treasury, it only paid its workers once, but failed to clear the arrears. Workers have gone for more than six months without getting paid. The party is having challenges in paying other bills for its day-to-day running.”
According to the source, the party received money in December and paid part of the salary arrears.
It received another grant from government under the Political Parties (Finance) Act and Mashakada said he had set aside $3 million for salaries.
The money, however, vanished and Mwonzora kept promising the youths that Mashakada would pay them.
About 25 youths are guarding the premises, fearing that the rival MDC Alliance faction led by Nelson Chamisa would reclaim the building.
The youths are surviving from food handouts from unnamed senior party executives.
Last month, one of the youths wrote to Mwonzora threatening to hand back the building to Chamisa.
Mwonzora, in one of the security meetings, raised the issue that the party headquarters was now a security threat, a move that motivated the change of venue for executive meetings.
Mwonzora’s spokesperson Lloyd Damba confirmed the party had closed its offices, but said the decision was made in compliance with the COVID-19 regulations set by government.
However, in accordance with the current level 4 COVID-19 measures, government permitted a 10% workforce at workplaces.
Damba said he was unaware of the water bill and also insisted that all party workers were paid in full.
“We do not use council water. We have our own borehole at the party offices,” he said.
“We have completely closed the office in compliance with government directive to decongest workplaces. That is why the treasurer-general (Mashakada) is not coming to work. No one is visiting the party offices to contain the spread of the virus.”
However, insiders said there was no borehole at the party headquarters, but a reservoir that is filled up by council water.
Contacted for comment over the party bill, Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said: “Let me check for you.”
At the time of going to print last night, Chideme had not given an update.
The COVID-19 regulations allow not more than 50 people to congregate indoors.
The building’s second and fourth floors have auditoriums that can accommodate over 100 people each and the standing committee is made up of less than 30 people.