Biti cracks under pressure
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WHEN he was appointed Finance Minister in February 2009, Zimbabweans who had lived through the hell of hyperinflation sighed in relief and said a brave new world had arrived. As one who had never held a government position before, the weight of expectations of a people sinking into abject poverty was an overbearing one. But again, this was Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) who had previously told many a party rally that all that was needed to fix things in Zimbabwe was basic economics.
So when he showed unexpected bravado and together with his principal announced that civil servants would receive their salaries in hard cash, moments after joining the inclusive government, many really felt that at last a captain had been found to move the ship away from troubled waters.
The days of being given US$100 coupons as monthly earnings were now a closed chapter; many people might have wondered.
Even ZANU-PF dieha-rds like Patrick China-masa, the Justice Minister who had, months before he sat in a war room to avert an economic collapse, were left dumbfounded. They publicly wondered where the money would come from.
But, in an action revealing consummate skill or mastery, Biti had, within days, delivered what the ZANU-PF war panel had failed to do: To tens of thousands of civil servants, it was like the second coming of a celestial messiah.
But 40 months on, things have not changed and it does not require God to come to town for one to realise that they were taken down the garden path.
Has Biti failed or it is the system that has failed him? This is the biggest question.
Economist, John Robertson, does not see anything different that Biti could have done to turn around the economy. He strongly believes that some of Bitiâ€™s failures point to sabotage and limitations of operating in a coalition government.
â€œWhen it comes to agriculture, there is no money and it is not the duty of any ministry to do that. Before land rights were destroyed, banks funded agriculture,â€ said Robertson.
When one listens to the Finance Minister nowadays, there are traces of a constrained individual, bogged down mainly by a domineering ZANU-PF, with little room to manoeuvre despite a supposed better judgment.
Recent remarks by Biti that he was forced to attend Cabinet on the same day the nation was trying to come to terms with the death of the late General Solomon Mujuru in August last year underlines this school of thought.
â€œI remember one day last year on the 15th, August, 2011, those of you with long memories will recall that was the morning that General Solomon Mujuru was discovered burnt at his farm. So, we went to Cabinet and some of us said, but surely we cannot have Cabinet when the countryâ€™s greatest soldier has died under these circumstances, but it was business as usual. We had small cakes and big apples,â€ said Biti.
â€œThere is this culture of impunity, this culture of indifference; we are what T. S. Elliot wrote as â€˜The Hollow Menâ€™, people without conscience. Mr. Spea-ker, one of the sicknesses of this country is this culture of impunity, this culture of indifference â€” you read in the newspapers that US$120 million has been stolen from the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, nobody loses sleep, and it is business as usual. You read that there has been two bus crashes, 35 people have died, and it is business as usual.â€
Bitiâ€™s choice of words revealed a man cracking under pressure as he becomes increasingly frustrated with his operating environment and cannot take his best foot forward.
At one point, he chose the crudest of words to describe his compatriots saying Zimbabwe has bec-ome a nation of â€œscarecrows and stupid; heartless and mindless; emotionless and brainless idiotsâ€.
Gilbert Dzikiti, a political analyst, believes Bitiâ€™s complaints of indi-fference when so much was going wrong was not a smokescreen, as there are issues such as lack of accountability of diamond reven-ues that were hindering him from delivering to the best of his ability.
The issue of diamond revenues, according to Dzi-kiti, constitutes cri-minal conduct, and it was high time the police and the countryâ€™s intelligence seriously looked into it beca-use itâ€™s a matter that can also bring food onto their tables.
â€œWe must commend Mr Biti for being candid and frank that the country is dangerously dysfunctional and yet the principals are not reining in those ministers like Mr (Obert) Mpofu, the Defence Ministry for recruiting without Treasury authority and Webster Shamu for total disregard of Cabinet directives.
Biti is not a golden goose and cannot create money from thin air,â€ he said.
Mpofu is ZANU-PFâ€™s Minister of Mines and Min-erals Development, in cha-rge of the countryâ€™s diam-onds. Shamu presides over the Ministry of Information, which has been digging its heels in over the reconstitution of the Broa-dcasting Authority of Zim-babwe as pressure mounts on the inclusive government to free the airwaves.
e Finance Minister occupies the hottest seat at this juncture in government. The buck was passed to him by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gide-on Gono at the formation of the inclusive government as, before that, the then ZANU-PF governm-ent looked to the latter to wave the magic wand for its woes to disappear.
Ricky Mukonza, another analyst, said Bitiâ€™s job was the toughest job in government for two reasons: first, the government has inadequate financial resources to fund its programmes. Secondly, there is no harmony in the inclusive government, more often than not the public reads of tag of wars between ZANU-PF and MDC led ministries, a good example being the recent spat between Biti and Defence Minister, Emmerson Mnan-gagwa because the latter is said to have authorised recruitment of more soldiers.
â€œI think his (Bitiâ€™s) biggest success has been his ability to run his ministry with some level of transparency. Although the government is operating on a hand to mouth basis, Biti has been able to keep the public informed of how their financial resources are being used and the challenges that the ministry is facing,â€ said Mukonza.
â€œSecondly, though to a limited extent, Biti has restored some confidence in the countryâ€™s economy. Of course there are other variables that are outside his control. He has moved in to try and normalise Zimbabweâ€™s relations with multilateral financial institutionsâ€.
Mukonza disputed claims that the minister always behaves like a student activist, saying the fact that he led his partyâ€™s Global Political Agreement talks shows that he is a good boardroom politician.
â€œIn terms of succession politics in MDC-T, Biti appears to be the best positioned to take over from Tsvangirai because he is generally accepted both within MDC and outside. Biti is viewed as a tried and tested member of the movement, who was there from the beginning,â€ added Mukonza.
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