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Chinamasa's $4,1 billion budget alarms Mugabe opponents

by Blessing Mhlanga
11 Dec 2016 at 09:03hrs | Views

For many, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa's dour 2017 budget presentation could have passed as a non-event, but his predecessor Tendai Biti is a worried man.

Biti, who helped stabilise the economy at a time Zimbabwe seemed to have reached a tipping point in 2009, says he has studied the $4,1 billion budget and he is convinced President Robert Mugabe's treasury chief is up to serious mischief.

Chinamasa allocated two thirds of next year's budget to Mugabe's office, the army, police and agriculture - the nerve centres of the 92-year-old ruler's power retention schemes that revolve around the abuse of state resources to oil Zanu-PF's election campaigns.

The government's praise-singers were quick to hail the budget as pro-poor and a springboard for the revival of a comatose economy, but the devil is in the detail.

"The budget presented by Chinamasa on December 8 2016 is anti-people and anti-development," Biti said in his state of the economy address on Friday.

"The fact that two thirds of the budget is absolved by the four votes which include the office of the president ($187 million), defence ($358 million), agriculture ($293 million), Home Affairs ($384 million), is proof that this is a securocratic budget that is serving the interests of Zanu-PF."

The former Finance minister presented the detailed analysis of the budget a day after Chinamasa tabled his proposals in the National Assembly amid a chorus of disapproval from Zimbabweans that felt the expenditure plan did not deal with the worsening economic problems.

Biti's sentiments were backed by the Coalition of Democrats (Code), a grouping of some of the country's opposition parties, which accused Chinamasa of failing to rise above politics.

"Indeed, the budget reflects that the 2018 election campaign has started and that Zanu-PF is bent on subverting the people's will again," Biti added.

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is already championing the so-called command agriculture programme, where the army is playing a leading role, a move largely seen as his own way of consolidating power while positioning himself to succeed Mugabe.

Zanu-PF believes the rural population can always guarantee it electoral success, even as urban voters become more disillusioned with an ever-imploding economy.

Biti said Zanu-PF would abuse the $293 million allocated to agriculture through the command agriculture scheme to retain power.

"We all know that such schemes as command agriculture, free inputs and the mooted presidential inputs support programme are used by the dictator as tools of control in order to retain power.

"Abuse of food aid is the biggest challenge that the majority of the poor rural Zimbabweans are facing as food aid is being distributed along partisan lines."

Biti said some government revenues were being wasted on ghost workers - another vital part of Zanu-PF's election manipulation strategy.

"The size of the public sector increased from 236 000 employees during the government of national unity [GNU] to 550 000 workers in the post GNU," the People's Democratic Party leader charged.

"This effectively means Zanu-PF has recruited 314 000 ghost workers in a space of three years.

"There is a need to suspend at least 200 000 of these ghost workers pending a thorough audit," he added.

"Even if it turns out that there are genuine workers in the 200 000, the same must be retired on the basis of a social programme that will allow them to rebase their lives. after all, most of them own land in the model A1 or A2 schemes."

Code - which counts Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ), MDC, Zapu, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, Democratic Restoration Assembly and Zimbabwe Union for Democrats among its members - described the budget as a framework for Zanu-PF looting.

Former Economic Development minister Elton Mangoma who is now RDZ leader, speaking on behalf of Code, said the budget presented by Chinamasa would not create an environment conducive for economic growth.

"A country that doesn't save and invest in its future can never create economic growth," he said.

"This budget fails to achieve that. Instead, it entrenches a dictatorship and unproductiveness, through the looting machine of this economy.

"Until this paradigm changes, we will continue to endure this economy of crisis to calamity.

"This budget can be characterised as a looting budget, where Zanu-PF have used the budget to loot national resources and the savings of many Zimbabweans.

"The budget deficit has been funded and will continue to be funded by looting deposits and savings from the banks and hence the cash shortage will persist," Mangoma added.

Code said if Zanu-PF was not using the budget for elections, it could have allocated more money to social services instead of institutions that appeared eager to entrench Mugabe's rule.

"It is shameful that the health facilities have only been allocated $200 million, a mere 4,9% compared to the 23% [allocated towards] entrenching dictatorship," Mangoma added.

The former MDC-T deputy treasurer said Chinamasa failed to address critical issues affecting the economy, choosing to instead oil the Zanu-PF looting machinery.

"Unfortunately this budget dismally fails to seriously address the relevant issues, and instead entrenches the country deeper into a police state with 23% of it being in the office of the president, defence and Home Affairs," he said.

"Added to this, a significant portion of the expenditure seeks to oil the Zanu-PF looting machine at the expense of creating a sustainable income and employment for our citizens," he said.

Chinamasa told the National Assembly that the government expected to collect $3 billion in revenue next year, down from $3,14 billion this year.

Only $520 million would be spent on capital expenditure as most of the revenue would go towards paying civil servants that gobble 91% of the government's expenditure.

Mugabe's government expects to run a deficit of $400 million next year compared to $1,1 billion this year.

Chinamasa has failed to implement some of his proposals to cut the deficit by scrapping civil servants' bonuses following resistance from Zanu-PF.

Source - the standard