THE Chinese are now handholding President Robert Mugabe’s government as it has emerged that experts from the Asian economic giant have been seconded to the Office of the President and government departments in a move officials say is meant to capacitate government ahead of implementation of deals signed between the two countries last year.
The move also points to China’s increasing infl uence in Zimbabwe, while also betraying the lack of trust between the Chinese and Zimbabwean officials.
The Chinese embassy declined to reveal the mandate of experts attached to government, saying the embassy did not play a role in their coming to Zimbabwe.
“The Chinese embassy was not involved in the recent China visit; Ambassador Lin Lin was only invited to attend their meeting with President Mugabe. So the embassy does not know the details of this visit. Can we suggest you
contact the Office of the President and Cabinet for comment,” said Liu Ning, first secretary of the political section at the Chinese embassy in Harare.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba confi rmed that a Chinese team of experts was providing technical assistance to government. He however said they had since left.
“The training which you are talking about took place two weeks ago and it was mainly on project proposals for bankable projects. The reason why we needed training is because we lacked competence in some areas which the Chinese are experts in,” Charamba said.
A team of Chinese experts from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), led by Liu Xianxing, was in
Zimbabwe to evaluate the so-called “mega-deals” signed by Mugabe and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, amid indications that the Chinese were finally ready to concretise the deals by providing funding following numerous trips by Zimbabwean officials, the latest being by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who visited the Asian giant last month.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa also visited China pursuing the financing of the deals, as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis becomes increasingly desperate.
China, which is keen to secure and expand its growing business interests in Zimbabwe,has committed itself to funding key infrastructural developments in the country, but is reportedly worried about leakages in government, hence the seconding of officials to set up tight financial systems, among other objectives.
Mugabe visited China in August last year where he and Xi signed a number of deals.
The Asian giant pledged to provide financial support for projects in critical sectors such as energy, roads, agriculture, railways and telecommunications, water and mining.
Government believes the projects will help it meet some of the targets set in its ambitious economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset), which remains largely unimplemented.
The Chinese are however worried about the leakages in government caused by lack of controls and bad corporate governance,hence their reluctance to release funds without instituting measures to protect their investment.
Last year, for instance, China, through Eximbank Bank, provided the Harare City Council with US$144,4 million for the rehabilitation of waterworks, but part of the money was allegedly abused as it was used to purchase 50 top-of-the-range vehicles worth over US$2 million.
Zimbabwe has also been failing to repay loans totalling about US$1,5 billion provided by the Chinese. There are indications that some of the money was misused and could not be accounted for.
Government officials have revealed that before the implementation of the deals, the Chinese have insisted on training government officials, while some of its officials were seconded to government offices, including the Office of the President.
Sources said the capacitation through training would continue until the end of the year.
A government official said the Chinese team was seconded to the President’s Office as it is helping oversee implementation of some of ZimAsset’s targets.
ZimAsset, among other aims, sets an economic growth rate of 7,2% between 2013 and 2018, as well as the creation of 2,2 million jobs during the same period. It requires funding to the tune of US$27 billion.
The programme has so far been an abject failure, largely because of government’s failure to attract funds as well as a severe liquidity crunch which has resulted in company closures and massive job losses. The job cuts have been accelerated by a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing employers to lay off workers upon giving them a three
Government is thus desperate for the Chinese to fund the projects which would create jobs.
Mugabe is expected to meet Xi again at the China-Africa Forum in December, where he is expected to push for the speedy implementation of the projects.