Save us: Mugabe, Tsvangirai told

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe and his coalition partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai  should agree on a poll date soon to salvage the economy which is bleeding because of continued bickering, Finance minister Tendai Biti said yesterday.

In his state-of-the-economy address, Biti said uncertainty over poll dates has driven the country’s economy to the precipice.

 “A disturbing position that is coming from our analysis of the economy in the first four months is that there has been an obvious shrinkage of the economy,” Biti told reporters.
 
“The hanging factor that has been brought by the uncertainty of elections is not good to our economy given the lack of clarity on the dates for elections.

“The politicians must resolve the outstanding issues so that there can be certainty. This uncertainty is suffocating the economy. Because of past experience, business is scared.

“President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai should give us an election date so that we will not continue hurting the economy.”

While Mugabe has been saying elections would be held just after Parliament expires on June 29, his fellow principals Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube, insist polls will be held only after the implementation of political and electoral reforms agreed to in the 2008 power sharing pact.

Yesterday, Biti told journalists that the sooner the two protagonists agree on an election roadmap, the better for business—which is scared of a repeat of the 2008 election chaos and its aftermath.

In the run-up to the 2008 harmonised elections, the economy was reeling and the establishment of a coalition government that followed disputed presidential elections breathed life in vital economic sectors.

The economy has recorded four successive growth rates after a decade of economic meltdown and with another election on the horizon, business is pensive.

“Information from manufacturing companies that were exhibiting at the just ended 2013 Zimbabwe International Trade Fair indicated declines and near stagnation in production volumes compared to last year,” said Biti.

For April, Biti said, total revenue stood at $263 million, against a target of $282.3 million, reflecting a $19.3 million shortfall.

“In this regard, cumulative revenue collection over January to April 2013 stood at $1 101 million against a target of $1 107 million,” said Biti.

With poll dates still unclear, due not only to political differences, but also because of the unavailability of funding, Biti said the economy has been the worst casualty.

“There is something wrong in our economy and the elephant in the living room is the issue of election funding. The sooner we have clarity, we would see the return of business confidence,” he said.

Biti, who is also the MDC secretary general and a key negotiator of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which is the foundation of the coalition government, said there is need to implement the GPA in full before setting poll dates.

Although Mugabe and his Zanu PF are adamant that agreed reforms in the GPA have been implemented, Tsvangirai and Ncube insist that polls will only be held after the implementation of an electoral roadmap.

Biti, who is also tasked with mobilising funds for elections, said government has shelved its plans to make the ordinary person fund polls through among other measures, increasing cell phone charges.

“The UN is ready to assist us with poll funding but (Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick) Chinamasa is in the way. I however, do not doubt that we are going to secure the funding,” Biti said.

Regional bloc Sadc, the curators of the unity government, is set to hold a summit that will mobilise funding for Zimbabwe’s elections, among other things.

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