RECENTLY there was a spate of contradictory statements from government on the wherewithal to fund civil servants’ salaries. President Robert Mugabe claimed diamond sales revenue would be used to pay government workers while Finance minister Tendai Biti denied treasury had received any money from diamond sales.
Mines minister Obert Mpofu also stepped in stating government had realised US$170 million in diamond exports — US$40 million of which he claimed had gone to the civil servants’ salaries. Now Biti has ordered the Accountant General, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority Commissioner General and Comptroller and Auditor General to investigate diamond exports. Apart from the audit, Biti also told parliament this week that there was need for a diamond law in order to deal with transparency issues in the industry.
This made a lot of sense; the move could eventually bring much needed accountability and transparency. But others did not see it that way.
Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chairman Goodwills Masimirembwa has even dreamed up a shameful conspiracy theory — Biti wants companies doing business with Mbada and Marange Resources to be placed on the sanctions list — in his defence of the diamond money fiasco.
Politics aside, Biti had a point. There is no doubt that there is need for more accountability in diamond sales if the economy is to benefit from its diamond mining operations.
That Biti claims he did not receive any of the diamond money as the treasury boss when his mines counterpart Mpofu claims the money is there, is worrisome, a cause for concern and emblematic of a dysfunctional government. Even if another bigger and better diamond reserve was found today, it is clear that the economy and the state’s own employees might not benefit from such discoveries given the level of confusion and lack of transparency around diamond operations, particularly where government has shareholding.
Instead of ensuring that the economy benefits from diamond sales, Mugabe and his Zanu PF want to turn a non-political development relating to diamond sales into a political matter. Across the border, Botswana has clear and transparent diamond policies that Zimbabwe could do well to emulate judging by its ineptitude in handling its exports.
Diamonds have been at the centre of Botswana’s economic growth and development. Instead of treating diamond deposits as a blessing, one can safely be forgiven for thinking it is some kind of curse in Zimbabwe. With the manner government officials are handling the diamond issue it is akin to throwing pearls before swine, to borrow a Biblical adage.
While those in government could have learnt from the Botswana experience, they consciously fail to do the right thing by putting in place sound policies that ensure accountability and transparency.
The likes of Masimirembwa want to portray the diamond business as a secretive and mysterious venture while others across our borders have shown that there is no need to erect a great wall of secrecy and shame.