Lighter side of 2013 budget

HARARE - The presentation of government’s $3,8 billion 2013 national budget exposed a rarely seen lighter side of Parliament in what is usually the cut-throat world of Zimbabwean politics, and there was certainly a healthy share of political humour during the presentation.

But make no mistake: all parties in the House of Assembly take the budget — which they started debating in Parliament yesterday — seriously and are going to extraordinary lengths to either fight the Finance Bill or ensure it passes through Parliament unscathed.

Biti’s presentation saw many jokes, with MPs, ministers and even President Mugabe breaking into loud laughter. There were lighter moments for a Finance Bill that could affect Zimbabweans for years to come.
Biti was in his element, presenting some unique political theatre.

The lawyer-cum-politician relied on a separate universe of jokes to keep him going through the drudgery spending plan that is usually a sleeping tablet for most MPs.

Keeping MPs from all parties entertained, the tough-talking minister displayed a wicked sense of humour when he let down his partisan force field.

Presenting a $60 million fund for the rehabilitation of rural district council roads, Biti said: “Honourable (Flora) Buka, you know your little roads (in Gokwe-Nembudziya), 5km of tar and 5km of dust, another 5kms of tar, then 5km of dust, zvinonzi zvigwishu zvaFlora.”

The wisecracks extended to politicians who are shareholders in banks hiding behind a motley of corporate vehicles, shelf companies and trusts.

“When you pierce the corporate veil, it is the same individual, Moyondizvo,” he said.

“I actually wanted to say Gushungo (President Mugabe) but I know you do not own a bank and (Mines) minister Mpofu is not here,” Biti said taking a dig at Mpofu who has pumped $22,8 million into troubled ZABG Bank which he bought recently.

Even the anticipated belt-tightening next year that will be caused by diversion of funds to bankroll a referendum and a general election was presented in a humorous manner.

“So, kuchava nekugedageda kwemeno (there will be gnashing of teeth).”

Biti said Zimbabwe grows tobacco — 90 percent of it gets out of the country, mines diamonds, platinum, chrome and 90 percent of it is going outside Zimbabwe.

“This also include cotton, we make the best cotton in the world, but most of our shirts ‘‘Comrade (Joseph) Made’’ are written ‘Made in China’ at the back,” Biti said drawing uproarious laughter from the house.

He said the multitude of challenges facing the economy required a fundamental rethink of state economics and development in Zimbabwe.

“Only a mad person repeats the same thing over and over again,” he said.

Giving an illustrator that government was living beyond its means, he said: “It means we are killing a rat but consuming an elephant and that is not sustainable, honourable. Speaker.”

On over-taxation, he said: “What this means is that, our people are overtaxed and we are trying to get water from a stone, which science says its impossible, that is a challenge we have.”

And there were grim statistics too, but spiced with humorous anecdotes.

“For every dollar is coming into Zimbabwe by way of export earnings, $3 is going out,” Biti said.

“These are huge figures, you are talking of $7 billion, it is not sustainable, we are running a feja feja economy, and it is not sustainable.”

Stating that 40 percent of the population is financially excluded from financial products, Biti said only 24 percent of the population has access to a bank account.

“So, most of us, are putting money in all kinds of anatomies, 27 percent of the adult population keep their savings at home, under pillows, instead of using financial service products.”

Exploring his two economic models, the preferred 15-point “cheetah option” and the discredited “crocodile option” which he said entails a continued reproduction of the enclave economy and further impoverishment of the people, Biti said:  “With great respect to the minister of Defence over there, I call this the crocodile scenario.”

Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa is nicknamed ‘‘Ngwena’’ or crocodile.

But the occasional moment of levity during the presentation could not mask the outright greed and hostility against Biti over Constituency Development Funds (CDF).

“Ko CDF?” the MPs shouted.

“I thought you were not going to ask on that one,” Biti retorted. “Tinokupai, toziva kuti mune maelections next year.”

As usual Biti had to throw in his favourite hamlet Dotito somewhere.

“Mr. Speaker Sir, from Dotito to Chiendambuya, Insiza to Bubi, Tsholotsho to Rupike, our people feel they have paid their dues,” he said. “The ordinary people yearn for peace, security, development and the education of their people.”

He paid homage to people he met during countrywide consultations.

“There are some people like Oliver Baloyi of Masvingo and Chiredzi who reminded us in Masvingo this year that, pasina nhokwe hapana majuru, Stephen Dube of Bulawayo, Rido Mpofu of Gwanda and James Masango of Bindura. These people have now become regular furniture in our meetings; I want to appreciate this group of committed Zimbabweans.”

And as a sign-off, Biti said: “Honourable. Speaker, we have glossators, epistemologists, oncologists and even rocket scientists sitting over there,” he said pointing to Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and sending the house into laughter.

“The capacity for cerebral engagement should just be as obligatory as it is desirable. I personally, honourable. Speaker, have hope, great hope (for this nation.)” - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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