BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
ZIMBABWE’S COVID-19 fight might soon go off the rails if government does not urgently mobilise additional funding after exhausting US$93,2 million of the US$100 million budgeted for vaccine imports, with the country still far from achieving its targeted 60% herd immunity.
Presenting the mid-term fiscal review statement in Parliament on Thursday, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said Treasury was only left with US$6,8 million after importing 11,8 million doses and 7,2 million syringes.
He, however, indicated that he was hopeful of using the country’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) to access additional funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But his is subject to approval by both Parliament and the IMF, and fears are that the process might take long.
MPs immediately took him to task demanding that he should have proposed a supplementary budget in the review statement instead of leaving the matter hanging.
By yesterday morning, Zimbabwe had recorded 3 532 deaths and 108 860 infections since the pandemic struck in March last year.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has set an ambitious target of vaccinating at least 60% of the adult population, which means the country requires 20 million doses to meet the target.
Ncube said the US$100 million COVID-19 war chest was funded from the 2020 budget surplus.
The southern African country is using vaccines from China (Sinopharm and Sinovac), Russia (Sputnik V) and India (Covaxin), for which an individual need two doses.
To date, Zimbabwe has taken delivery of 6 785 000 doses of the four vaccines, while 1 645 599 people had received the first dose by yesterday morning, with 767 910 fully vaccinated.
MPs last Thursday quizzed Ncube on why he failed to propose a supplementary budget for procurement of more vaccines.
“Hon minister, you said that you had budgeted US$100 million for 12 million vaccines and yet government policy says that by December, you want to achieve 60% which is herd immunity. If you talk of 60% headcount, we are roughly saying that we need another additional US$83 million to the US$100 million spent,” Dzivarasekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa (MDC Alliance) said.
Mushoriwa demanded to know where additional funds to procure vaccines would come from given that no supplementary budget was proposed in the budget review statement.
In response, Ncube said: “When we think we have run out of money, surely we will come to the House, and I can say already, as we consider how to spend some of the SDR funds, we may want to make an allocation for further vaccine acquisition. So, we could cover that through a portion of SDRs, but we all have to agree through this august House.
“On SDRs, an important question was asked about factoring these. I have not as yet factored the SDRs legally. Of course, I voted Mr Speaker Sir in favour of the allocation because every governor of a member of the IMF has to vote, so I voted last week. I hope you will agree with me that we need those SDRs and I voted in favour. Have we factored it into the equation? Not yet. Legally, we can only factor it in once we get a note from the IMF that we have been awarded and the amount is known,” Ncube said.
On the issue of a supplementary budget, Ncube said: “I must say that when we get SDR allocations, as I said earlier on, the US$1 billion, I need to come back to Parliament to seek permission on how we should spend that. That really would constitute a supplementary budget.”
In a statement yesterday, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) said without a supplementary budget, the fiscal review left a lot to be desired as it failed to capture many people’s expectations.
“Firstly, no further light was given about the procurement of vaccines. The minister highlighted that government had budgeted US$100 million for vaccines and to date, about US$93,2 million has been utilised. With the country still far from its primary goal of attaining herd immunity, the balance (US$6,8 million) for vaccine purchases seems inadequate in covering the need.”
Apart from COVID-19 funds, the budget also failed to explain how government was paying for grain purchases from farmers.
“Although some of these purchases are said to be covered through reallocation of budget votes from areas of less economic importance, the budget review is not sufficient without a supplement. An example of missed opportunities to have been catered for in the supplementary budget is the preparation for the reopening of schools. Government is pushing for schools reopening, but with zero spending on personal protective equipment for teachers, and masks for underprivileged children mostly in rural areas,” Zimcodd said.
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