INTERNATIONAL Monetary Fund officials have returned to Zimbabwe for talks with government and banking officials before the Fund’s executive board reviews the crisis-hit country’s expu
lsion from the group.
Zimbabwe faces expulsion over massive arrears and its economic policy, but the IMF granted the country a six-month stay of execution in July after Harare resumed some payments and made “limited” policy changes.
Mired in its worst economic crisis since Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has been without IMF aid since 1999. Critics say the seizure of white-owned farms has severely damaged its agricultural sector which is crucial for foreign exchange earnings.
The Washington-based Fund has closed its office in Harare and in September expressed “grave concern” over Zimbabwe’s failing economy, once the bread-basket of southern Africa but which shrank by over 9% last year.
The five-member IMF team, which arrived on Wednesday, will be in Zimbabwe for 10 days, a senior Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) official said, adding the visit was part of consultations to strengthen ties between Zimbabwe and the IMF.
“We have a delegation from the IMF which is here for a 10-day working visit as a follow-up to Abdoulaye Bio-Tchane’s visit,” he told Reuter yesterday.
Bio-Tchane, the IMF’s African department director, said last month that President Robert Mugabe wanted better relations with the IMF but the Fund had laid out strict conditions the country should meet to escape being expelled from its ranks.
There was no immediate comment from the IMF team.
Critics blame Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, shown in shortages of foreign currency and fuel, a jobless rate of more than 70% and an inflation rate of over 200%, on mismanagement by Mugabe’s government. Mugabe denies the charge.
Mugabe, who in the past has said Zimbabwe was ready to sever ties with the IMF, accuses former colonial power Britain of mobilising international pressure to punish him for his land seizures for landless blacks.
Yesterday Mugabe told about 9 000 party supporters attending a congress in Harare that sanctions advocated by Britain on his government would also hurt Britons operating businesses in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe said up to 400 British companies were operating in Zimbabwe, a figure disputed by industry officials who said many had closed or relocated due to the country’s economic crisis.
“An environment affected by sanctions will affect these companies as well … and so one would hope that the British government will renege on its course of wanting the Zimbabwean economy to collapse,” Mugabe said.
“The prosperity of Zimbabwe will be the prosperity of the Britons here as indeed it will be the prosperity of the companies I have made mention of,” he told supporters. – Reuter.