FINANCE minister Tendai Biti has equated the coalition government to a school, saying the hard lessons learnt were that such arrangements place a premium on development.
BY NDAMU SANDU
In an interview last week Biti said the life of the coalition government was made tougher by a faction of Zanu PF hardliners, whom he said were bishops of chaos.
“A bad thing that I learnt is that in a fragile situation where hard decisions have to be made, coalitions put a premium on development.The buck must stop with one individual, that is, the President. If you have a bus with two drivers; one is accelerating and one is applying the brakes, it doesn’t work, and that has been the experience of the past four and half years,” Biti said.
“I wouldn’t want to see a coalition in Zimbabwe as long as we still have this group of people with a culture of impunity, a culture of entitlement.”
Biti said it had taken the government long to negotiate for an International Monetary Fund’s Staff Monitored Programme (SMP), as he had to convince the Fund that Zimbabwe would adhere to the books.
Some of the issues Zimbabwe promised to agree to during the SMP, that runs up to December, are the issuance of a Statutory Instrument, containing a clear formula for the calculation and remittance of any dividends from diamond producers. Government has shareholding by month end and a bill to take over the central bank’s debt by end of September.
Biti said only a credible, legitimate election would ensure the success of the SMP.
“We need a credible, legitimate election in Zimbabwe. We cannot continue to be arrested by predatory politics and vicious cycles of exclusion, underwritten by the chaos faction of Zanu PF. So we need to destroy this huge temple where the chaos faction of Zanu PF are bishops — this church needs to go,” he said.
Biti is due to present the mid-term Fiscal Policy, but the combative minister said the polls proclamation had made government a sitting duck and his statement won’t have proposals.
President Robert Mugabe proclaimed July 31 as the date for the harmonised elections drawing the ire of coalition partners, who said the processes leading to the polls had not been completed. The regional body, Sadc, recently told Zimbabwe to seek a two-week extension to the poll date.
The new government, he said, would have to lay the path forward, riding on the work that had been undertaken.
“It’s important that we consolidate the good that Zimbabwe has done in the past four years and jettison the bad that we have done, which is largely too much of subordination of our economic trajectory to politics,” he said.
“We must stick clearly to what we have said and speak with one voice. This business where every one is an authority in subjects that they are illiterate is not helpful to the country. If you are Minister of Indigenisation stick to that, don’t venture into things that you don’t know, because you will become an authority in chaos.”
The ministries of Finance and Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment are at odds over the implementation of the empowerment rules in the banking sector.
Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere, insists that the banking sector won’t be spared in the indigenisation drive and any foreign bank unwilling to partner with locals should pack and go.
Biti and central bank governor Gideon Gono insist that the sector is already indigenised, and those who want to join the party should apply for new banking licences.
Biti and Gono have found common ground despite having fought at the early stages of the coalition government.
“We fought viciously. There was lack of trust between the two of us. I was very clear I had to do a certain job which was to make sure that the central bank performs its core business of monetary policy management . . . ,” he said.
Before then, the central bank was engaging in quasi-activities, such as funding agriculture, parastatals and elections among others.
These activities were blamed for quickening hyper-inflation as the central bank resorted to the printing press to finance growing government commitments.
“I was super-imposing this on a bank that basically had been allowed or forced to become the Ministry of Finance. We all came to a point that there is no country that can operate without the synchronisation of monetary and fiscal policies. Governor Gono also understood that I was sincere in what I was doing, that I was not after any personal attacks, gratification and vindictiveness,” Biti said.
“We also understood that there were people benefitting from our divisions — newspapers and factions in Zanu PF. I am glad it’s all in the past. He is a very experienced man.”
Biti said the two are on talking terms and can sit for hours discussing economic issues.
On the qualities needed to become Finance Minister in a fragile country like Zimbabwe Biti said one has to be strong, honest and trustworthy.
He said one should have craft competence and “understanding your subject and you must be [the] prime driver of what is good for the economy”. One must be very strong in defending that which is good for the economy.
He said one must be a team player and earn the respect of colleagues.
“You can’t rule by proclamations or decrees,” Biti said, adding that populism had to be done away with.
“There are some decisions which in the short-term might be very unpopular but in the long-term will be for the good of the nation. I would have liked to give a 2 000% salary wage increase to civil servants, but it’s not possible,” he said.
He said a Finance Minister has to be articulate and his legal training has been a plus for him.
Biti said one has to be hot-headed and stick to the book, and must have a good team of professionals.
FIRST IMF AGREEMENT IN A DECADE
A Staff Monitored Programme (SMP) is an informal agreement between country authorities and International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff, to monitor the implementation of the authorities’ economic programme.
SMPs do not entail financial assistance or endorsement by the IMF Executive Board.
This is Zimbabwe’s first IMF agreement in more than a decade.