Election crisis: $132m needed

HARARe - Zimbabwe hopes to raise $132 million needed for the forthcoming general elections from the international community, diamond revenue, mobile telecommunication firms’ licence fees and mining royalties, as the cash crisis bites.

Fresh from bankrolling a constitutional referendum through $40 million raised from a special bond floated to the local unit of Old Mutual and the State pension fund, Finance minister Tendai Biti said he had no intention of going that route again to fund the forthcoming watershed polls.

Old Mutual Zimbabwe and the government-owned National Social Security Authority (Nssa) are Zimbabwe’s largest fund managers.

“We essentially, for lack of a better word, raped the economy for the referendum,” Biti admitted at a news conference.

“We have no intention of doing so again for the election. It’s not possible to continue to borrow money from an already over-strained private sector that has in fact a huge appetite for funds to fund working capital, to fund operational costs, so we have no intention as Treasury to do that again.”

Zimbabweans overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a relatively peaceful March 16 referendum, a crucial step towards a general election later in the year.

Biti said $132 million would be enough to cover the costs of the election, and reiterated that Zimbabwe would need the help of foreign donors to fund its presidential and parliamentary elections.

He however, expressed alarm at the attempts by Justice and Legal Affairs minister, Patrick Chinamasa to alter the terms of reference of a UN team that was due to come and assess the political situation here, but said the issue has been resolved.

“The international community must come to our assistance,” Biti said. “They are prepared to come to our assistance, but we have had our own challenges as a government.”

Biti said they jointly wrote to the UN on March 4 2013, saying that the world body should come to Zimbabwe, “but as all you know, one side of the government decided that it was not in the best interest of the UN to come to Zimbabwe.”

“So we had a situation where from Wednesday to today, the UN mission was still stranded in Joburg, I believe they are now trying to make their way back to New York,” Biti said.

“Yesterday, I spent the whole afternoon in negotiations with the minister of Justice about the terms of reference of this mission to come into Zimbabwe.

“We eventually panel beat an agreement which we all signed in our ugly handwritings, to allow the mission to come. As far as we are concerned, the mission should come, and there is nothing that should stop it from coming.

The UN Electoral Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) to Zimbabwe, led by a member of the UN Electoral Assistance Division Tadjoudine Ali Diabacte, will meet with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, chief secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda, Biti, Chinamasa, Regional Integration minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, minister of Constitutional Affairs Eric Matinenga, the co-ministers of Home Affairs Theresa Makone and Kembo Mohadi,  Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede, the Fishmongers (Western) group of ambassadors and Sadc ambassadors.

“We could not agree on the question of whether or not the mission should see civic society, so we have agreed that the issue should be resolved by Principals and I hope that will be done as a matter of urgency,” Biti said.

The Finance minister said he and Chinamasa had met with Diabacte on Sunday afternoon and impressed upon him that there is no longer any impediment for the UN mission to come to Zimbabwe.

“So our hope is that the mission can come into Zimbabwe as a matter of urgency and talk to all of us on the list that I have just read,” Biti said.

“It will be tragic if they don’t come to Zimbabwe. The bottom line is that failure to fund this election adequately will compromise the quality of the election.”

The government is battling to bankroll its national budget without donor help amid cooling economic growth that slowed to 4.4 percent last year from a 9.3 percent expansion in 2011.

Biti said the economy, projected to grow by 5 percent this year, remained “depressed” with tax revenues falling below target amid burgeoning government spending, especially the salary bill for its 235 000 employees.

He said he also hoped to bankroll the forthcoming poll from diamond revenue.

“The other things that should fund elections are diamond revenues. If there was honesty in diamond revenues, we should not be asking for money from anyone,” Biti said.

“And that’s a fact. If you look at last year 2012, our (diamond) exports were $888 million, (only) $45million came to treasury. To the extent that we own 50 percent of these diamond mines, the minimum we would have expected to get from $800m is $300m. $300m would overcome both the referendum and the elections.”

Biti said the cash-starved government was also in talks with the three mobile phone operators to raise poll funds. Econet is Zimbabwe’s largest mobile operator by subscribers and revenue ahead of Telecel, the Orascom unit, and state-owned Net*One.

“We are also negotiating with our telecommunications mobile operators vis-a-vis their license fees which have, as you know, their licenses expire on the 30th of June, and I hope that logic prevails, wisdom prevails, and a win-win situation can prevail,” Biti said.

“So I have no doubt that a combination of the international community, diamond revenue, mobile telecommunications license fees, and the bit I will do around mining reforms, on royalties, we should be able to fund this election adequately.

“It is important that Zimbabwe has a sustainable election, a credible election, an exclusive and inclusive election. So we have to fund it well.” - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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