Biti’s remarks come eight months after he told market watchers during a reverse listing of Tedco Ltd (now TNFH Ltd) that government would recapitalise three state-owned enterprises by going public.
Although Biti did not name the parastatals, speculation was rife that mobile phone operators NetOne, currently struggling to claw back market share since the dollarisation of the economy last February, was one of the targeted state firms.
This development extends the listing drought on the capital-starved exchange that has to date seen only two reverse listings — Tedco and CFX (now Interfin).
Biti was responding to a question from the parliamentary committee on budget chairman Paddy Zhanda during the presentation of oral evidence to the committee.
Zhanda, Goromonzi North MP, asked Biti why government was reluctant to wean off perennial loss-making state companies.
The lawmaker cited the public listing of Cottco and Dairibord, formerly state-owned entities, which became profitable after listing on the ZSE. Among some of the state-owned companies in the red are Zesa, NRZ, GMB, Air Zimbabwe, CSC and Agribank.
“Zhanda said: I don’t think there is anything that you can salvage from Cold Storage Company. When is the right time to privatise? I think it’s not fair to tax people earning as low as $180 to buy Mercedes Benz vehicles for executives of struggling parastatals.”
In his response, Biti said his counterparts in the inclusive government were cautious to list or privatise parastatals despite enormous pressure being piled by state enterprises on the fiscus.
Government is generating nearly US$140 million in revenue monthly and this figure could increase when key utilities contribute a projected 40% to the Gross Domestic Product.
“There is phobia in government of the word privatisation,” Biti said. “I personally hoped that there would be three listings on the ZSE of formerly 100% state-owned entities. It hasn’t happened. We are in October and trust me, it is not going to happen before the end of the year. I think it’s a tragedy as some of us have argued (that) I would rather own 10% of an elephant than 100% of a rat.”
In June, former Parastatals and State Enterprises minister Joel Gabuzza said government was expected to privatise 11 state-owned enterprises. He said “discussions were underway” to wean off Cold Storage Company, Grain Marketing Board, Agribank, Ziscosteel, National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, Allied Timbers, Air Zimbabwe, NetOne, TelOne, Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe and ZIPAM. But to date discord within government has failed to attract potential suitors of the state enterprises.