HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsComment: Name RBZ debtors to move forward

Comment: Name RBZ debtors to move forward

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Zimbabweans have in the past fortnight witnessed fierce parliamentary debate over the Reserve Bank Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill. And if passed, government will take over the $1,35 billion RBZ debt incurred through its quasi-fiscal activities.

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There is, however, a danger that if government takes over the debt, Zimbabweans will obviously be taxed even further to repay the debt. This also means the debt will be added to the ballooning $10 billion external debt saddling Zimbabwe.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa wants the Bill passed to enable the central bank to have a clean balance sheet and to borrow internationally, as well as to restore confidence in the banking sector, but opposition MPs are resisting the Bill’s passage.

The MPs’ arguments are mainly based on moral issues as to whether the already deprived Zimbabweans and future generations should be made to pay taxes for a debt they do not clearly understand how it accumulated.

It is a fact that Zimbabweans suspect the debt was accrued through the profligacy of President Robert Mugabe, First Lady Grace, and top Zanu PF officials that had control of the country’s resources.

During the period in question, then RBZ governor Gideon Gono had assumed the title “Father Christmas”, dolling out cash to elites, and to think that Zimbabweans must be punished by this debt is unimaginable.

Although the list of creditors that was published in the National Assembly Order Paper shows that most of the firms and individuals owed were genuine debts entered to save Zimbabwe between the 2007 to 2009 period of severe economic hardships, there were still questions as to how other amounts which resulted in the $1,35 billion debt were accrued.

The RBZ has refused to make public the debtors and beneficiaries list although it is understood that the First Family’s Gushungo Dairy project in Mazowe substantially benefited from the national purse.

Other top Zanu PF officials also looted farming equipment under the poorly-managed farm mechanisation, fuel and vehicle schemes, among others, resulting in the debt ballooning to disproportionate levels.

It is regrettable that the $1,35 billion amounts to a third of the $4,1 billion National Budget that Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced for 2015. One wonders whether the country can afford additional debts and/or taxes in a nation where over 80% are unemployed.

There is no doubt that Zimbabweans are not keen to repay the debt which essentially benefited a few privileged politicians, hence they rejected the Bill during public hearings around the country.

But what is also worrying is the behaviour of some members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development. Initially, the committee vowed that the Bill would never pass unless the overstated amounts owed to creditors of up to 2 500% were verified and validated.

Sadly, the MPs (chairman of the committee David Chapfika and Bikita West MP Munyaradzi Kereke) have made a U-turn and are now vigorously calling for passage of the Bill. Whether it’s due to political patronage or not is neither here nor there. Debates should be based on merits and nothing else.

We believe that the Bill must be passed because the debt will hinder and compromise the RBZ from effectively discharging its mandate, especially as the lender of last resort, but the debtors must also be made public for transparency’s sake.

It is imperative that those that abused the various government schemes are brought to book for purposes of moving forward. We believe there is nothing wrong in naming and shaming the RBZ beneficiaries. Because government has named the creditors, it is also important to name the debtors if there is nothing to hide.

It is high time Zimbabweans demanded transparency and accountability from the Executive.
In addition, Parliament should speedily enact a law to set borrowing limits by the State. Abuses of State resources should be halted as a matter of urgency.

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