Zim losing millions to official theft: Biti

HARARE - Zimbabwe is losing a large chunk of its revenues to thieves in government, Finance minister Tendai Biti has claimed.

Government departments are not remitting cash to Treasury and other forms of theft of minerals are on the rise in Zimbabwe, the MDC secretary-general told a party newsletter, and said the corruption that pervades the nation often sees that money go into political leaders’ pockets rather than toward government services.

Zimbabwe relies on mining and agriculture for government revenues.

“The ministry of Home Affairs and everything that is below it are not remitting to Treasury,” Biti said. “For instance, the Passport Office collects an average of $1,5 million a week although themselves they claim its $800 000. It is not coming to us.”

Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi was unreachable for comment yesterday, while her counterpart Theresa Makone was in meetings when the Daily News called.

Biti also claimed police were not remitting any cash to Treasury as well.

“At roadblocks, the police are collecting about $2 million a month; the money is not coming to us,” Biti said. “It is a breach of the law as section 103 of the Constitution stipulates that every cent that is collected in Zimbabwe must be accounted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is under Parliament although administered by ministry of Finance.

“It is not happening. We have no problem if they say they want to retain, we will allow them to retain even 100 percent but it must come to us first to comply with the law but it is not happening.”

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said: “The minister lied to the nation that the Zimbabwe Republic Police is collecting about $2 million dollars per month from roadblocks, which it is not remitting to Treasury. The minister is fully aware that the organisation is only retaining a paltry $500 000 and authority to this effect is in place.”

A spate of corruption scandals have damaged confidence in President Robert Mugabe’s pledge to reform the southern African nation’s economy, which suffers economic stagnation, collapsing infrastructure and crippling power shortages.

Corruption scandals, particularly involving billions from the Marange diamond fields, have dogged Mugabe, including the alleged use of the vast revenues for social programmes unfurled in his re-election bid.

Diamond sector reforms are being debated in Cabinet, while a new mining policy is being put to public debate nationwide.

Biti said Marange diamonds have only benefited well-connected elite amid reports by Partnership Africa Canada — a member of the Kimberley Process — that at least $2 billion of diamonds have been stolen by people linked to Mugabe’s party.

“We have people with degrees of looting and stealing,” Biti said. “Our diamonds exports last year were $800 million and only $45 million came to Zimbabwe. Why are those running diamond firms not patriots or nationalists when they belong to a nationalist party? Predatory and primitive accumulation is killing this country. The cancer of this economy is corruption.”

Goodwills Masimirembwa, chairperson of state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) — which jointly operates mining companies in Marange — denied the theft charges, and said diamond sales were $700 million not $800 million, of which 15 percent was paid as royalties to revenue collector Zimra at the diamond auctions.

“Biti has continued to lie to the nation; he refuses to acknowledge Zimra takes 15 percent at source in royalties. At every sale, Zimra is there they take 15 percent, which amounts to $120 million. This amount is outside the $45 million he is talking about.”

Sharpening his economic message, Biti is claiming credit for an improving economy.

“The greatest thing that we did was to stop the economic haemorrhage and to restore macroeconomic stability,” Biti said. “When I became Finance minister, inflation was hovering above 500 billion percent and there was no food in shops as well as fuel. Between 2009 and 2011 Zimbabwe was the fastest growing economy in the world.”

Thumbing his nose at Zanu PF’s indigenisation drive, Biti said the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act was a “poorly crafted piece of legislation” that he said threatens Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and is being poorly implemented.

“You cannot craft an Act basing on a transformation programme that demands that whatever black Zimbabweans have to own, they must buy the shares,” Biti said. “That is a disaster because which black person has that money in Zimbabwe? Once you introduce the issue of value and consideration only the elite blacks will continue benefiting, so you have done nothing.”

Mugabe has vowed to continue with his radical empowerment policy forcing foreign firms to surrender 51 percent shareholding to local blacks.

At stake in the election is not only the future of Mugabe’s leftist empowerment “revolution,” but the continuation of socialist programmes, which the MDC has threatened to repudiate once they won in the forthcoming poll.

Government officials said Biti was playing with fire, offending Mugabe by criticising the handling of the indigenisation deals.

“The other disaster is the manner in which it is being implemented,” Biti said. “It is being implemented in an opaque, nocturnal and illegal manner. These Community (Share Ownership) Trusts, you don’t find them anywhere in the Act and once again we are back to the matrix of predatory and extractive accumulation. It is not transparent because the deals are neither reported to Parliament nor Cabinet.

“This legislation is actually threatening the growth of the economy and investors are shunning Zimbabwe as an investment destination. What we require as a growing economy are sound economic policies that are investor friendly. We in the MDC are pushing a new approach to resuscitate and develop the economy through the Jobs Upliftment Investment Capital Environment (Juice) blueprint.”

Juice is an ambitious US$100 billion economic stimulus package that aims to make Zimbabwe’s economy robust once the MDC takes power  by creating one million jobs by 2018, increasing economic growth rates exponentially, further reducing inflation, delivering a $100 billion economy by 2040, improving electricity generation and building a social contract.

The southern African country’s economy that collapsed under the weight of runaway hyperinflation which peaked at 500 billion percent in 2008 has been growing by an average of five percent since 2009.

A confident MDC says it is sure of ending Mugabe and Zanu PF’s rule in the next election and setting the country’s economy on a new path.

“I believe that party candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, will win the presidential election with 75 percent of the electoral vote,” Biti said. “President Tsvangirai is the only man in Zimbabwe with the chemistry and heart for the people. People are tired of 33 years of hunger and they want change.

“We are the messengers of this change. We are fighting the most sophisticated dictatorship on the continent, the most risk taking regime on the continent.” - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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