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Zimbabwe's Economy 'Bleak', Says Finance Minister - 2002-05-08

Zimbabwe's finance minister, Simba Makoni, painted a bleak picture of the economy Wednesday and of the country's ability to find enough money to feed its people. Mr. Makoni said for economic stability Zimbabwe needed an end to violence and to reduce its international isolation.

Mr. Makoni has been the only member of President Robert Mugabe's cabinet to regularly acknowledge the depth of Zimbabwe's economic decline.

His statement to journalists at a press briefing was unequivocal - Zimbabwe is broke. No one is investing in the country, nor is there any likelihood anyone will, and there is no foreign currency available to import food.

He said that all farmers should be allowed to continue operations without disruption during the present land redistribution exercise.

He conceded that agriculture, in particular large scale farming, which is largely conducted by whites, was seriously disrupted, but said this did not happen as a result of government policy.

He said criminals were to blame for the evictions of hundreds of Zimbabwe's most productive farmers in the last few weeks.

With few staple foods available in Zimbabwe, he said the government had been tardy in responding to warnings last year of a critical shortage of grains.

He also said price controls on basic commodities, introduced ahead of presidential elections in March, had contributed to Zimbabwe's runaway inflation, which is now more than 100 percent.