Showdown looms over Zim debt

PARLIAMENT has threatened to take unspecified action against Finance minister Mthuli Ncube for failing to submit documents detailing Zimbabwe’s debt as prescribed by national laws.
The Public Debt Management Act compels the Minister of Finance to submit details about the status of the debt twice a year.

BY MELODY CHIKONO

But this week, members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Economic Development said Zimbabwe’s debt had not been timeously disclosed to legislators.
They said sometimes they received the reports late.

The committee’s misgivings were backed by findings of an annual debt management report released by the African Forum for Debt and Development (Afrodad) and the Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development, which slammed government for failing to comply with the law.

Publication of the debt is crucial to enhance accountability and transparency in public financial administration.

However, Afrodad’s report showed that until March, no debt bulletin had been produced by the public debt management office.

“The minister is not coming, so the question is what is it that we now need to do?” asked Felix Mhona, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Economic Development who spoke during a conference in Bulawayo.

“We are not sticking to some of the dictates of the Constitution. When we go back to Parliament, we want to take the Executive to account. This is it, the reports are not coming and we have got a budget office where they are submitted but we are not getting anything. As we resume our third session, we will start by the compliance reports. It is no longer a talkshow. I assure you as Parliament that going forward, this (report by Afrodad) is a dashboard to say honourable minister, you are not bringing the reports to the House and we are sanctioning you,” he said.

Parliament also slammed the ministry for producing poor reports.

“What we get can be just a table stating the debt amount, but it doesn’t say what the debt was for? How was it contracted and when,” said Pepukai Chivore, director of the Parliament budget office.

A member of the committee, Edwin Mushoriwa said lack of transparency in debt administration meant that the debt that government publicly talks about could be understated.
“The Ministry of Finance has failed to adhere to the tenets of the Constitution,” he said.

“The figures that are being mentioned in the report are actually smaller than what we think is the debt of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Mushoriwa said that some technically bankrupt ministries were also accruing debts with government guarantees, but the debts remained off the balance sheet.

Parliament is mandated by the Constitution to monitor and oversee use of government resources. In reference to public debt, Parliament’s role is to authorise the Minister of Finance to borrow and issue guarantees on behalf of the government, enact laws to govern public debt management and ratify all external loan agreements.

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