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October 03, 2012

Zimbabwe Finance Minister Defies Vets' Calls to Resign

by Sebastian Mhofu

Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti is defying calls by veterans of the country's independence war to step down after refusing to review their monthly pension payouts.
 
The veterans, who are loyalists to President Robert Mugabe, have been preventing the minister from reaching his offices.
 
About 200 veterans blocked access finance ministry facilities, protesting the minister's alleged incompetence and refusal to increase their monthly payments, and call for his resignation.
 
A visibly subdued Biti, blocked from entering his offices since the beginning of the week, addressed reporters at his MDC party offices Wednesday, saying he would not give in to the veterans' demands.
 
“I hope the president and the prime minister can deal this matter with the urgency it deserves," he said, explaining that veterans' welfare is a government concern, but that treasury does not have the money to meet their demands. "But if your question is ‘Will we resign?’ — that will not happen. We will not bow down to predatoriness. So they are literally, literally knocking on the wrong door.” 
 
Biti has repeatedly said that revenue from Zimbabwe's diamond fields, which are controlled by the military, does not reach the treasury, leaving a big hole in the country's budget.
 
Individual veterans currently receive just over $100 monthly, while the lowest-paid civil servants get about $200.
 
Since the formation of a coalition government between the MDC and President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in 2009, Biti has defied calls to increase wages of civil servants. Last year an explosive device hit the security wall of the finance minister's home in an attempted bombing.
 
“The attacks on the ministry of finance are political — intended to emasculate not just the ministry of finance, but they are also personal attacks on the person of the minister of finance in his personal right," he said, referencing last year's failed bombing. "We are not afraid of anyone, so you can send your bombs as you have done to some of our houses. We are not afraid of you, we are not afraid of you, we will continue to do our jobs as we have been asked to do so until the life of this inclusive government."
 
The unity government was formed after Zimbabwe's violent and disputed 2008 elections. The government has stabilized Zimbabwe's economy over the past three years despite chronic tension between the two main parties. However, fears of renewed violence ahead of new elections has scared away investors and slowed economic growth.