CHINESE economic experts who were due in the country this month to conduct feasibility studies ahead of the implementation of Sino-Zimbabwe deals signed in August have postponed their visit to January — a development likely to delay the implementation of long-awaited infrastructural projects in the economic-crisis hit country.
A desperate Zimbabwe initially sought US$27 billion to implement its ZimAsset economic blueprint before reducing its requests to US$4 billion in budgetary support from the Chinese which all failed to materialise.
President Robert Mugabe was forced to settle for a number of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) for the implementation of infrastructural projects in various sectors of the economy, including power generation, water, telecommunications and mining.
The MOUs, hailed as “mega-deals” by the state media, were signed by the two countries during Mugabe’s state visit to the Asian economic giant at the end of August, but most of the projects are yet to take off amid indications the Chinese are concerned over revenue leakages in parastatals and line ministries that will oversee their implementation, should feasibility studies be favourable besides political risk.
“The postponement of the visit will certainly delay the implementation of projects hinging on the outcome of the feasibility studies,” said one government official who declined to be named.
“No funding will be released in lieu of these studies. Moreover, the Chinese are also worried about the state of parastatals which are supposed to implement the projects, saying these state enterprises are mismanaged and may well divert funds if they are not reformed.”
The Chinese embassy referred all questions to the “relevant Zimbabwean government departments,” but their diplomatic mission emailed a response recently indicating the MOUs as mere “framework agreements”, confirming the so-called mega-deals are no cause for celebration just yet as they do not guarantee Zimbabwe a way out of its financial predicament.
“As the MOUs signed during President Mugabe’s visit to China are framework agreements, the relevant Chinese institutions and enterprises are working with the Zimbabwean government and enterprises on the details of their cooperation,” wrote Ning Liu on behalf of the Chinese embassy.
An official who accompanied Mugabe to Beijing in August told this paper last month that upon their return the Chinese were sceptical about Zimbabwe’s economic path and were thus behind the scenes gravely concerned about a number of issues, including the country’s low credit rating, Mugabe succession issues and political risk.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa was not available for comment but told parliament on September 3 that the Chinese would only fund bankable projects.
The Zimbabwean economy, reeling from low aggregate demand, falling production and a liquidity crunch, among a plethora of other problems, is now technically in recession after two successive quarters of negative growth.
Meanwhile, China will soon increase its economic footprint in Zimbabwe amid revelations that the Asian powerhouse will set up a platinum mine in the mineral-rich Great Dyke belt in the Chegutu-Norton area.
Sources from the Mines ministry who spoke to this paper last week said the new mining venture is the subject of discussions between the ministry and the Chinese as the country continues to explore projects for partnership with China in the aftermath of Mugabe’s state visit to the Asian giant at the end of August.
The Great Dyke — a mineral-rich geological feature extending more than 550kms from the northeast to southwest across the centre of Zimbabwe — contains platinum, gold, chromium, nickel, copper, titanium, iron, vanadium and tin, among other minerals.