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RBZ Debt Assumption Bill sets bad precedent

Fresh concerns have been raised over the allocation of farm equipment acquired through loans from Brazil, India and South Korea in the wake of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill that recently sailed through both the National Assembly and Senate.

By VENERANDA LANGA

Just over a week ago, President Robert Mugabe launched a $98 million agricultural equipment programme funded through a Brazilian loan facility.

Analysts have questioned the railroading of the RBZ Debt Assumption Bill without taking into cognisance whether it was right to forgive loans owed by top chefs.

They said while the RBZ published a list of its creditors, the central bank and government refused to disclose the debtors who owe it $1,35 billion, a debt that must now be inherited by the ordinary tax payer.

This has raised eyebrows and concern over whether future farm mechanisation schemes would not be similarly abused.

Some of the RBZ debtors included beneficiaries of the farm mechanisation scheme which saw big fish and politicians being given expensive farm equipment like combine harvesters and tractors without paying anything for them.

Apart from the $98 million farm mechanisation Brazil loan Scheme, the India Exim Bank was expected to also inject $20 million devoted to mechanisation equipment for A2 farmers and $40 million for irrigation. About $100 million was also expected from a South Korean facility for mechanisation, although this time government announced beneficiaries would have to pay for them.

Southern Africa Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Dewa Mavhinga said without accountability, realised through publishing the names of beneficiaries of such schemes, the country would continue to witness massive misuse of funds as well as perennial hunger and poverty.

Brazil equipment

“Zimbabwe’s potential for sustainable development is obliterated by rampant corruption, political patronage and lack of accountability, especially in the distribution of agricultural equipment donated by the international community,” Mavhinga said.

“But, the problem is not just with bad governance in Zimbabwe, it is also with international donors who fail to put in place adequate mechanisms to ensure that all their donations reach intended beneficiaries without being misused or diverted along the way.”

He said knowing the list of beneficiaries of the RBZ farm mechanisation scheme was necessary.

“Sadly, over the years there has been systematic looting of donations with virtually no action from government to stop the rot and hold those responsible accountable. The sad result is that donations are being poured down a bottomless pit to benefit cronies of the regime while the country suffers from perennial food insecurity,” Mavhinga said.

Analyst Takura Zhangazha said the passing of the RBZ Debt Assumption Bill without publishing the names of beneficiaries and central bank debtors proved that most schemes were for the benefit of the ruling elite.

“The Bill is primarily testament to how Zimbabwe is now functioning on the pretext of “socialism for the rich” where all those with debts to the RBZ, are the elite of our society that are politically connected to the extent of having their debts written off,” Zhangazha said.

He said it was unfair for Zimbabweans to pay back a debt they had no hand in creating let alone one they have not benefitted from.

“There are no advantages in government taking over the debt because the government is not only broke, but it will then act in favour of protecting the elite as opposed to social economic programmes to uplift the majority poor,” Zhangazha said.

“What we have in Zimbabwe is an establishment of the elite that prioritises its own economic interests over and above everyone else.”

MDC-T chief whip Innocent Gonese and Kuwadzana East MP Nelson Chamisa tried hard to challenge the passage of the Bill without RBZ naming the debtors. But Zanu PF outnumbered the opposition with 115 of their MPs voting for the Bill while only 37 opposition MPs tried to stop it.

Gonese suggested that the beneficiaries of the RBZ farm implements scheme should not be allowed to take part in the vote as they were interested parties.

Chamisa pointed out to Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda that there was a possibility of a constitutional infraction by allowing MPs who benefitted to vote for passage of the Bill.

But, Zhangazha felt that the protestations by the MDC-T were not strong given that they were once part of the inclusive government where they could have demanded accountability and payment of monies owed to the RBZ by the big fish that were part of the debtors.

“They could have demanded repayment of those loans given their stint in government and in particular their being at the helm of the Ministry of Finance,” Zhangazha said.

Gonese told The Standard on Friday that his party was still to come up with a position on whether to lodge a complaint through the Constitutional Court over Parliament having allowed MPs who benefitted from the RBZ farm implements scheme to vote for passage of the Bill.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said the opposition was free to lodge their complaints but meanwhile the RBZ Debt Assumption Bill should pass in order to enable them to start on a clean balance sheet.

Opposition MDC Renewal spokesperson Jacob Mafume said it was criminal abuse of office for the Speaker to allow MPs who benefitted to vote for passage of the Bill as it was going to set a bad precedence that people could acquire things without paying for them.

“It is the biggest scandal since Willowgate, and it is daylight robbery through Parliament. The Zanu PF MPs who benefitted should not have voted for passage of this Bill,” Mafume said.

He said there was an alarming lack of detail on how the RBZ incurred the debt and it gave an impression that the money was abused.

“It is rank madness to take over a debt of this magnitude without asking the beneficiaries to give back the money they used. Government says it cannot fund universities yet it has money to pay for debts accrued by members of Parliament and ministers. We wonder whose interests they are serving,” Mafume said.

Political Science graduate and independent candidate for the Harare East National Assembly seat, Zechariah Mushawatu said the RBZ debt was an odious debt, adding Zanu PF MPs who benefitted should have been named and recused from voting for passage of the Bill.

The names of debtors and the amounts they owed were supposed to be published in the name of transparency and good governance and to show how that money was spent. Transparency and accountability are pivotal to stop abuse of future schemes,” Mushawatu said.

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