Last week we had two Cabinet ministers telling Finance minister Tendai Biti not to poke his nose into their coffers and declaring they will only remit to Treasury whatever money they wanted — not what Biti expected.
Mines minister Obert Mpofu said Biti and fellow Cabinet ministers who were questioning the manner in which proceeds from Zimbabwe’s rich diamond fields were being administered, had no right to do so because they had not invested anything there.
Mpofu said this at the official opening of this year’s Mine Entra in Bulawayo on Thursday. On that same day and in another part of the same town, at Ndabazinduna Training Depot where he was officiating at a police pass-out parade, Home Affairs co-minister Kembo Mohadi was saying the same thing.
He said he was not going to listen to Biti’s calls for the police to remit the estimated $1 million which the force raised through spot fines and other penalties every month. He claimed Biti was deliberately seeking to ground the police by denying them funding. So, he said, the police force was not going to hand over to Treasury the money that they collected on the roads — even though the law says such money should be remitted to the Ministry of Finance.
It is also Mohadi’s ministry, through the Registrar-General’s Office, where millions of dollars raised from passport fees is not going to Treasury.
Mpofu, on the other hand, literally told Biti, and everybody else that has been seeking transparency and accountability in the mining sector, to shut up because “whoever speaks loudest about mining has not contributed a penny to the mining sector . . . You cannot reap where you have not sown”.
The minister suggested that accountability and transparency at the country’s mines could only be queried by persons that would have invested in the sector . . . just as he had invested in the banking sector by personally buying ZABG Bank!
The implications of these statements and actions by the two ministers are quite worrying. Could it be they mean they will defy the law and refuse to account for government money raised from their ministries?
Could it also therefore mean that in Zimbabwe, Cabinet ministers can choose to do what they want with whatever money is raised through whatever services their ministries provide?
Meaning as such, that the Ministry of Health could also hold on to hospital fees paid by patients treated at government hospitals, or that the Ministry of Transport should keep all the tollgate money; the Education ministry, all the school fees; the Ministry of Justice, all the fines from the courts while the Natural Resources ministry pockets all the money from the ivory, hunting quotas etc!!
What kind of disorderly nation would we become?
Unless otherwise legally agreed that ministries can retain certain percentages for certain purposes, ministers like Mohadi and Mpofu should not be allowed to act like bandits — rogue outlaws in a civilised country. If the law says ministries must remit money to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, then it must be done.
A minister cannot be allowed to wake up one morning declaring, as Mpofu and Mohadi seem to have done, that they will remit what amounts they choose and keep what they want. How is that money accounted for? And then we hear certain people claiming, and expecting everyone to believe, that they are rich because they were born like that!
There are claims that government cannot claim money from the Marange diamond fields because as a shareholder it can only get dividends which are declared at the end of a trading year. Those dividends, the excuse seekers claim, are still very little or even non-existent because the mining of diamonds has swallowed billions of dollars that require repayment. There are those who even say we could go for over 10 years before we can start getting any dividends.
This excuse is peddled without any records being provided. That also despite the fact that the diamond companies dole out millions of dollars to community share ownership trusts or other charity exercises while they remit a paltry $200 000 to Treasury! Meanwhile, it is not much of a secret how many tonnes of high value diamonds have been flown out of the country.
Other excuses include claims that diamonds from Chiadzwa are largely industrial and not valuable gems — or that because of sanctions, Zimbabwe is not able to sell its diamonds where it would fetch good prices!
The problem in believing these outrageous claims is the fact that activities at the diamond fields are not transparent at all. The government ministry responsible for keeping records of how much is being made there, is totally in the dark and can only speculate – because Mpofu says Biti has no right to claim accountability and transparency!
Would it be any wonder then that more and more Zimbabweans are buying into the sound belief that billions of dollars are coming out of our diamonds but the money is building a private war chest? Or oiling another poll terror for a certain political party that is so desperate to win the next election?