PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s claims last week that $15 billion was looted from diamond revenue by mining companies made for interesting reading. Initially there was a muted response to the claims, but now a lot of dust has been raised and ordinary Zimbabweans are now crying for accountability.
$15 billion is a lot of money and it could have gone a long way in removing Zimbabwe from its economic mess and Zimbabweans have every right to shout blue murder.
However, while we demand accountability and transparency, there is need to interrogate Mugabe’s claims and not take them at face value.
A Nigerian adage says when a leopard wants to eat its young ones, it first accuses them of smelling like goats and we fear Mugabe’s statement was meant to justify the closure of the Chiadzwa diamond fields and shut the companies down.
While we will not take the side of the diamond mining companies, the timing of the accusations is also interesting.
If Mugabe and his government were sincere that such an amount of money had been looted, then they would have acted long back rather than first try to consolidate the nine companies into one and when that had failed, force them to shutdown.
Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidakwa must explain why he wanted the nine companies to consolidate into one if they were stealing so much money from Zimbabweans. The logical thing to do would have been to ensure that these companies were prosecuted and their operations shut.
However, the way Mugabe and Chidakwa have gone about it will instead raise more questions than answers, because this is high level corruption and these miners should not have been given a second chance.
Mugabe’s statement had the effect of condemning the diamond mining companies in the court of public opinion and somehow absolving his government from the alleged looting.
The statements also call for more scrutiny considering that the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) owns a 50% stake in all the diamond mining companies and questions must be asked on where they were when all this money was being looted.
Mugabe’s statements were meant to generate outrage against the diamond mining companies, but this has boomeranged spectacularly and now Zimbabweans need answers from the President, ZMDC and all the ministers on how they could turn a blind eye to looting of such an unprecedented scale.
To put into perspective the money that Mugabe claims was looted, Zimbabwe’s budget is just over $3 billion and $15 billion would have been enough to finance the country for four years, yet the President had to wait until his birthday interview to make such startling allegations.
This raises the spectre that, if indeed these companies had looted so much, they had the blessing and the protection of the government.
When former Finance minister Tendai Biti raised allegations that diamond money was not making its way to Treasury, he was accused of lying and political rent seeking behaviour. Three years later he has been vindicated, but at what cost to the government?
The government’s hands are not clean and Mugabe must take action rather than just blaming the mining companies that now look like the convenient fall guys.