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Zimbabwe's Biti Sees Problems Paying for Elections

Zimbabwe's Finance Minster Tendai Biti (file photo)
Zimbabwe's Finance Minster Tendai Biti (file photo)

Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti has told parliament that he has to find money to finance a referendum for a new constitution next year as we will find money for the next election. Biti’s statement comes amid concerns about how the country will fund full implementation of the 2008 political agreement which brought the inclusive government to power.

Even though President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party have said that elections will be held next year, parliament was given a different time frame this week from the man who controls the money, Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a member of the Movement for Democratic Change party.

Biti says his next budget of $3.5 billion, based on predicted economic growth of 9.7 percent, has to accommodate a referendum on a new constitution in 2012 as well as costs of preparations for elections.

Biti said those events and their costs are coming, whether lawmakers like it or not.

Preparations for the presidential, legislative and local government elections will include either a new voters’ roll or one considerably revamped, according to multi-party negotiators. The negotiators expect substantial changes to electoral law as well.

Biti said he will also have to find money to support institutions which the political agreement insists be created ahead of fresh elections, such as the Human Rights Commission. That commission has been set up but legislation to allow it to operate is stalled in the legislature. It has no budget either.

In addition, Biti said his ministry will struggle to pay public service wages which are 67 percent of the 2012 budget, and said he can not fund repayment of Zimbabwe’s $7 billion foreign debt.

Biti's ministry depends on tax revenues alone to fund the government, as Zimbabwe cannot raise any foreign loans to rebuild infrastructure, which fell apart under the former ZANU-PF administration.

The finance minister once again slammed spending on foreign travel by senior government personnel. Detailed reports on money withdrawn from the treasury show that most of it was spent by Mr. Mugabe on travel to Asia for medical treatment.

He also said imports far exceeded exports, with unprecedented amounts spent by the private sector importing vehicles.

Biti warned that growth would drop to 7.8 percent in 2012 because, in his words, “we expect election talk and violence.”

Zimbabwe's last elections in 2008 were seriously marred by widespread beatings and killings, most of them perpetrated by ZANU-PF supporters against the MDC. The MDC ended up winning control of parliament but the presidential vote, officially won by Mr. Mugabe, was rejected internationally as a sham.

A post-election agreement left Mr. Mugabe as president but gave the MDC an unprecedented power-sharing role.

Analysts have warned that Zimbabwe must have conditions for free and fair elections in place before attempting another vote.