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Respect public views on RBZ debt

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THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance is currently going around the country gathering public views on government’s proposed plan to absorb the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s $1,3 billion debt controversially accrued during the era of governor Gideon Gono.

NewsDay Editorial

The whole idea behind the consultative meetings is to enable taxpayers to air their views and guide the Legislature on how to handle the proposed RBZ (Debt Assumption) Bill before it is passed into an Act of Parliament to pave way for government to assume the debt in part, or in its entire form, and allow the central bank to revert to its core business of lender of last resort.

The debt, we are told, came about as Gono, through his quasi-fiscal interventions, sourced funds on behalf of government to fund pressing State obligations.

In his errands, Gono even invaded some individuals and corporate body’s bank accounts to fund, among other things, the farm mechanisation programme.

But, the message that has been coming out clearly from the few meetings held so far is that the RBZ should be audited to establish how it accumulated the debt to avoid situations where taxpayers’ money would end up paying for individuals’ lavish lifestyles.

The general sentiment has been that government must first go after those who owe the bank before spreading the burden among all taxpayers.

Fears by members of the public are, to a large extent, justified because examples abound of how public funds have ended up fattening politically-connected individuals’ pockets.

The RBZ debt issue should be no exception to public scrutiny given that government, up to now, has failed to produce an audit report on who got what from the farm mechanisation programme, and who has repaid the loans.

The committee’s efforts to engage the public on the issue is commendable not because it’s a statutory requirement, but because it gives the taxpayers a rare opportunity to hold government accountable.

However, our fears are that these public views and sentiments might not be captured and taken on board when the committee presents its final report to the a
ugust House before railroading legislators to approve the Bill.

The fears are stoked by reports that the committee chairperson David Chapfika also got $80 000 worth of farm machinery under the RBZ scheme and has, to date, not repaid the loan.

Chapfika has, however, denied the reports but without an audit report, it’s difficult to believe his word.

The Mutoko South Zanu PF legislator, who at the time was Deputy Finance minister and in charge of the RBZ, is said to have helped himself to a Monosem 4-row planter, a Hastt 24 disc harrow, a brand new Massey Ferguson tractor and a motor bike, among other items.

Surely, there ought to be a register of beneficiaries somewhere at RBZ or some government office.

The $200 million scheme reportedly only benefitted top Zanu PF officials and has been largely blamed for ballooning the central bank debt beyond its capacity to repay.

It, therefore, remains to be seen whether the views expressed by the public will be considered before the Bill is fast tracked into an Act of Parliament.

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