'US to lift Zim sanctions only after reforms'

HARARE - The United States will only ease sanctions on Zimbabwe after there are demonstrable economic and political reforms, Washington’s envoy said, after an African Union envoy maintained most of US’s economic restrictions were impoverishing poor citizens.

US ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas and the African Union (AU) ambassador to Washington Arikana Chihombori-Quao went head-to-head in a panel discussion on Thursday on the impact of Washington’s sanctions on Harare.

Under the administration of George W Bush, the US put sanctions on the government of President Robert Mugabe in 2003. The sanctions ban more than 250 Zimbabwean individuals and companies from doing business with the US.

The sanctions were implemented “as a result of the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe and other persons undermining democratic institutions and processes in Zimbabwe”.

Thomas and Chihombori-Quao clashed during a Voice of America discussion titled “Zimbabwe 2018 elections and beyond.”

The AU ambassador said: “...it’s a known fact that sanctions do not work and in fact they do affect the everyday women and children and in your position, if you say the sanctions are not making a difference in Zimbabwe, why not remove them?” Chihombori-Quao asked rhetorically.

In response, Thomas reiterated that Zimbabwe’s economy was in shambles due to poor policies and governance.

“...we are not responsible for the economy,” Thomas said.

This comes after Zimbabwe’s Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa blamed sanctions for the cash crunch that has even forced  government to delay payment of wages to soldiers and civil servants in recent months.

Thomas added: “If you ask me if there have ever been an area where sanctions have affected people, I will say yes and where, but don’t give me everyday, every person. Where it has happened is when people have tried to send remittances back and there have been overzealous compliance officers in the private sector who have thought, conflated sanctions with the ability to send money back home, and they have held that money,” he said, referring to the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) which regularly intercepts cash remittances without notice.

“We have always gone, not just me, but also my distinguished predecessors, to the department of Treasury who work with banks in order for people to get their money.

“That has been sometimes frustrating because it can take three months and sometimes people lose funds that are being sent back from their families that they badly needed.  For that, that is a mistake and that is wrong and we work everyday to make sure that does not happen but we are not responsible for banks closing.

“If Zimbabwe had an optimistic economic situation, people would be wanting to establish businesses but nobody is going to establish businesses at a place where you can’t get your money out,” he said, referring to some Zimbabwean banks struggling to provide cash and limiting amounts to individuals and companies.

“... I feel that it’s easy to blame others.”

Chihombori-Quao insisted sanctions were one of the challenges that were impeding development in Zimbabwe.

“If the sanctions are insignificant and are not contributing to the issues in Zimbabwe, why do we still have them? Remove them, and then there will be one problem out of many that would have been addressed,” she said.

Thomas responded: “Those sanctions were imposed by Congress, those sanctions would have to be lifted by Congress.

“Way before I came to Zimbabwe, in 2013, there were discussions with Zanu PF and the US, EU about starting to remove sanctions in exchange for election observers, they were told ‘no’. But the place to lobby for the removal of sanctions is on The Hill, that is the way it will have to be done and that is in response to not only improved economy but democracy and governance.

“The US supported Zimbabwe’s economic reform, the Lima process, but two years in a row when the Finance minister gave his budget speech, he was reversed the next day. That wasn’t by the United States or the EU or others, so my point is, there is a lot of things that need to be done internally but if you are interested in removing sanctions, you I’ll have to demonstrate different performances to the senators and congressmen.”

Chihombori-Quao refused to accept the explanation and insisted that sanctions were destructive.

“... sanctions are one of the many issues that need to be addressed and I think it’s an issue that needs to be acknowledged as a fact and not swept under the rug, that’s all I’m saying,” Chihombori-Quao said.

Thomas said: “Ma’am, I think we will just always have to agree to disagree.”

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