HARARE - Zimbabwe's finance minister has ruled out holding elections this year, saying the troubled nation does not have enough money to fund the polls. He blamed the problem on diamond mining firms failing to pay the government its share of revenue.
Addressing journalists in Harare, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said it was essential that the country’s precious stones help turn around the nation’s fortunes. As a result of diamond revenue not reaching the treasury, Biti said, there will be no elections in Zimbabwe this year.
"Look, we can't even pay wages. How do we pay for an election? Tell me. Here in the ministry of finance we can make you go on tour -there is no dam full of money. So it is simply there is no money for an election. We can’t look after our own recurrent expenditure. But if someone gives us some money maybe," said Biti.
That is a direct rebuff to calls by President Robert Mugabe to have elections this year to end the power-sharing government he formed with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009.
According to Zimbabwe’s constitution, elections must be held by June next year. Regional leaders in the Southern African Development Community want the polls held under a new constitution. But Mugabe has repeatedly indicated that he is not worried about the other leaders' positions.
"This year we must have elections; they must take place with or without a new constitution… We will tell SADC what the problem is. SADC cannot tell us to continue with an exercise that is futile," said Mugabe.
The futile exercise to which Mugabe refers to is the drafting of a new constitution, which has been brought to a near-standstill by disagreements between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s MDC party. Lack of funds also has derailed the exercise.
The lack of money can be traced in part to alleged corruption in the Marange diamond fields. The pro-ZANU-PF army seized control of the fields in 2009, and for a time, Zimbabwe was barred from selling the diamonds abroad. The international diamond watchdog, the Kimberley Process, cited reports of violence and diamond-smuggling in the fields.
The ban has since been lifted, but Biti said diamond revenue still is not reaching state coffers. At his Thursday news conference, the finance minister laid the blame on Anjin, a Chinese company that now is the biggest diamond mining firm in Zimbabwe.
He said the lack of revenue presents both political and economic problems.
"Clearly there are challenges of opaqueness. Clearly we fear that might be a parallel government where these revenues are going. We have a challenge in this country. I have spoken to the president; he is fully aware of this challenge. I have spoken to the prime minister; he is fully aware of this challenge," said Biti.
The term of the fragile coalition government expires about one year from now, in June 2013.