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Biti tackles govt over Covid-19 funding: We need accountability

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FORMER Finance minister Tendai Biti says government has not been transparent over its fiscal and financial issues on Covid-19-related matters, adding there has been a mixture of lack of accountability and lies.

OWEN GAGARE
Biti said in an interview with The NewsHawks today that he has seen a lot of figures being bandied about, but is wondering where the money is going to come from since it was not budget for. This, he said, is a serious cause for concern.

“The starting point is that the so-called stimulus package, Covid-19 expenditures and vaccines monies were not budget for. Even if you check government’s budgetary allocations and actual expenditures, there is no budget for that. Check with the parliamentary health portfolio committee – led by Dr Ruth Labode – and see how much has been spent on health-related issues and social safety nets,” Biti said.

“There was no budget for all this. So most of the things they are talking about are just lies. Where did the money come from? The IMF (International Monetary Fund), like I said, did not give them money. So where did the money come from? If they borrowed, they need to go through parliament in terms of Section 327 of the constitution. These are lies, they want to be seen to be doing something. Where is the evidence of all these monies they are talking about? Besides, there is also no transparency and accountability.”

Government says it has budgeted US$100 million for the Covid-19 vaccines, targeting 10 million people out of the population of 15 million population.

In an interview, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said he has set aside US$100 million to procure 20 million vaccine doses to inoculate people against the virus ravaging the country.

“We are targeting about 10 million people, the best head immunity which our health people have suggested we need. We are in the process of mobilising US$100 million for this project.

“We have that money, an equivalence of it. Yes we would want some more funds in the event that we are forced to go up to 12 million people. We have pegged the average price of a single dose at US$5,” Ncube said.

“We are in talks with the private sector so that they could come in and bolster our resources.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week held a virtual meeting with private sector executives over Covid-19. Since March last year when the country recorded the first Covid-19 case, Ncube said the government has used more than ZW$20 billion in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

To mitigate the negative effects of the lockdown on the economy, government announced a ZW$18 billion Covid-19 economic recovery and stimulus package to provide liquidity support to several sectors, including agriculture, mining, tourism, small and medium enterprises, as well as for the expansion of social safety nets and grants, and the setting up of a health sector support fund.

However, business, labour and communities have been asking where that money is and who has actually received it so far.

“Where is the money they are talking about and where is it coming from?,” Biti said.

Zimbabwe did not benefit from the IMF’s Covid-19 Financial Assistance and Debt Service Relief.
The IMF is providing financial assistance and debt service relief to member countries facing the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall, the IMF is currently making about US$250 billion, a quarter of its US$1 trillion lending capacity, available to its members.

As part of the Covid-19-related rapid arrangements, borrowing countries have committed to undertake governance measures to promote accountable and transparent use of these resources.

With regards to borrowing from outside, Biti said government needs to go through parliament.
“In terms of section 327 (2), government has to go through parliament to borrow money from international financial institutions and markets,” he said.

Section 327(2) of the constitution states that international treaties do not bind Zimbabwe until they have been approved by parliament.  The term “international treaty” is defined to cover conventions, treaties or agreements with foreign States or governments or with “international organisations”, that is organisations whose membership includes independent states.  

The effect of section 327(2), therefore, is that if the President concludes a treaty with, say, South Africa, Botswana or Zambia, the treaty will not bind Zimbabwe until parliament has approved it.  

The same applies to treaties concluded with organisations such as the IMF or the World Bank because independent states are members of those organisations.

Parliament’s role in monitoring and overseeing expenditure by the state, enshrined in section 299 of the constitution, is fundamental to good governance and accountability.

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