Biti budgets for watershed elections

HARARE - Finance minister Tendai Biti has set aside $50 million for a constitutional referendum and general elections scheduled for next year, warning that electoral violence is the “biggest threat” to Zimbabwe’s economy.

The figure allocated by Biti is far below the $300 million plus requested by electoral authorities.

Biti told the Daily News after presenting his 2013 budget proposals yesterday that the budget allocations meant polls are definite next year following years of disagreements of election timing.

But the minister immediately warned that election violence would spell doom for the stuttering economy.

“We have put aside the money for the referendum and elections and it is $50 million. This money is coming under unallocated expenditure. We hope it is enough,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has previously said it is ready for elections but wants $104 million to hold the referendum and $220 million for the general election.

Biti painted a grim picture in the event of a repeat of the violence that has characterised past elections.

“We have made an economic growth projection of five percent next year and this is anchored on a normal rain season and the continued firming of international commodity prices,” he said.

“There are downward risks though and I will summarise them as follows; the threat of a poor rain season and the collapse of international commodity prices. However, the biggest risk to this economy in 2013 will be a violent election.

“Any reproduction even on a small-scale of the fascism and friction we saw in 2008 will virtually collapse the nascent foundations we have tirelessly built in the past 45 months,” Biti said.

Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government, formed after the disputed 2008 presidential election run-off, had largely been dysfunctional with policy discord rattling much-needed cash rich investors.

This was after President Robert Mugabe had been humiliated by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in first round voting but failed to garner enough votes to ascend the presidency.

A subsequent run-off was reduced to a sham after Mugabe went on a one-man poll following Tsvangirai’s pull-out citing gross violence which he said was led by the military.

Violence has been a characteristic of Zimbabwe’s elections since independence from Britain in 1980.

Yesterday, Biti called for an end to the political logjam that has haunted Zimbabwe in the past dozen years saying it does not augur well for economic development and social delivery.

“Zimbabweans across the country are uncertain about 2013 and the elections.

They have said loud and clear that they have paid their dues and want an end to all this heckling.

“We therefore cannot continue in this cyclical path of permanent conflict temporarily suspended by short periods of peace. It will be a case of two steps forward and 20 steps backward. Political crises place a premium on development. We are heartened though by the messages of peace coming from our political leaders but we must walk the talk,” said Biti.

“We have two options the first of which is the retention of the status quo characterised by uncertainty and total subordination of the economic agenda to predatory politics and I call this the crocodile scenario,” Biti said chiding Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa known as “Ngwena the crocodile” in political circles.

“It entails the continued reproduction of the enclave economy and further impoverishment of our people. If you look at our social indicators; 90 out of every 1 000 children born are dying at infancy, secondly our maternal mortality stands at 96 mothers dying per every 1 000 during child birth and our life expectancy is 41 years. The figures of infant mortality and life expectancy are by any description soft genocide.”

He said Zimbabwe would have to pay a price for peace.

“We will pay for elections and the referendum next year and that will be our price for peace. This is our second option which I call the cheetah mentality. It requires a major paradigm shift by all of us and the pursuit of a united common vision under a stable democratic political dispensation and a graduation from the current status.

“People want peace, security, development, education and guaranteed non-selective application of the rule of law. Our political Principals agree it does not have to be like this. Next year should be the year we liquidate our cyclical politics and embark on virtuous politics of inclusivity,” the Finance minister said.

Zimbabwe has been in the throes of a debilitating financial, economic and political meltdown since the turn of the century that saw the virtual collapse of a once vibrant economy. - Richard Chidza and Chengetai Zvauya

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