Zim arms deal mystery deepens

HARARE - Mystery surrounds the source of funds used to buy an assortment of arms from South Africa, strengthening allegations that Zanu PF could be running a parallel authority outside the coalition government.

Reports indicate that Zimbabwe’s powerful Defence ministry last week took delivery of an assortment of weaponry, including armoured vehicles from South Africa.

Well-placed sources said the Finance ministry, which ideally should pay for such government expenditure, was not involved.

The sources said Finance minister Tendai Biti was in the dark on how the arms purchase was financed since he had not budgeted or released money for the transaction.

According to the insiders, mystery surrounds the financing of the arms purchase and other projects carried out by Mugabe such as the presidential scholarship programme.

Asked about his ministry’s involvement in the arms purchase, Biti appeared unwilling to talk.

“My friend, we release an overview of the state of the economy every month. They are public documents which you can access,” he said.

“You can check from them on whether Treasury has paid for the purchase of arms or is funding the scholarship programme,” Biti said.

Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba was not available for comment and his office said he had accompanied the president to the UN General Assembly in New York.

Defence minister Emerson Mnangagwa was unavailable for comment. His office said he flew out of the country well before Mugabe left for the UN.

The latest quarterly report “You can check from them on whether Treasury has paid for the purchase of arms or is funding the scholarship programme,” Biti said.

Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba was not available for comment and his office said he had accompanied the President to the UN General Assembly in New York.

Defence minister Emerson Mnangagwa was unavailable for comment.

His office said he flew out of the country well before Mugabe left for the UN.

The latest quarterly report of South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee included Zimbabwe among close to 50 countries that bought arms from Pretoria.

The committee stated that the transaction happened between April and July this year.

The Daily News has gleaned through this year’s State of the Economy Reports and can authoritatively state that there has neither been a payment for arms or indication Treasury is paying for Mugabe’s pet projects.

Top government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed Treasury did not fund the arms “cache purchase” and other programmes mainly administered under Mugabe’s office.

Biti has previously accused Mugabe’s Zanu PF, which enjoys close relations with the army’s top command, of diverting diamond revenues from Marange to run a parallel government.

The defence forces are linked to diamond mining in Marange.

The MDC, of which Biti is secretary-general, has also repeatedly made similar claims.

The party says it fears Mugabe is building a war chest ahead of elections most likely to be held next year.

Zimbabwe is reportedly the world’s fifth largest producer of alluvial diamonds but extraction of the prized stones has not turned the economic fortunes of the country.

Biti has previously said Treasury is receiving very little from mines operating in Marange.

He has also claimed that Anjin Investments, a Chinese-related venture with close ties to the defence forces, has not been remitting money to Treasury.

The firm accuses Biti of lying, saying it has paid over $30 million to government since starting operations in 2010.

Government mining agency, Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) has been less than willing to shed light on diamond revenues, even in the face of accusations that the money is being diverted.

ZMDC board chairperson and Mugabe loyalist Godwills Masimirembwa recently told journalists that it is difficult for the diamond mining sector to meet the projected $600 million contribution to the 2012 national budget because of “sanctions as well as the continued victimisation of the market by the United States”.

But some government insiders are not impressed.

“The military is taking delivery of arms worth in excess of $50 million yet Treasury did not finance the deal. Where did it get the money from?” queried one insider.

The insiders also disclosed that the cash strapped coalition government is not bankrolling the $70 million required for the presidential scholarship programme yet millions of dollars continued to be mysteriously churned towards the project.

Mugabe’s scholarship fund, whose beneficiaries are said to be cherry-picked along political party lines, caters for thousands of Zimbabwean students scattered across South African universities.

“Very soon as we enter the new agriculture season, Mugabe will finance an agricultural presidential scheme to the tune of at least $40 million. Where is he getting the money?” queried a government insider who spoke to the Daily News.

Christopher Mushowe, the director of the presidential scholarship programme said Mugabe’s office directly funded the programme.

“This is a government programme run under the President’s Office and funded by government. It has been in place since 1995 and has always been funded by the State. I am surprised people are denying this. That position has never been communicated to us,” Mushowe said.

Mugabe has previously said “well-wishers” were funding the agricultural inputs scheme.

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