THE revelation by President Robert Mugabe that the country has earned, but failed to account for diamonds worth more than US$15 billion in the eastern mining fields of Chiadzwa since 2008 has once again brought to the fore the government’s failure to curb corruption and looting that has helped to destroy a once thriving economy and reduce it to rubble.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
Speaking in a belated interview to mark his 92nd birthday celebrations on state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday last week, Mugabe said Treasury received less than US$2 billion in diamond revenues despite earning over US$15 billion.
While many critics felt Mugabe may have exaggerated figures, several reports have detailed the looting of Zimbabwe’s diamonds especially at Chiadzwa. One such report, titled Reap What You Sow: Greed and Corruption in Zimbabwe Marange Diamond Fields, produced in November 2012 by the Toronto-based pressure group Partnership Africa Canada says diamonds worth US$2 billion were looted since 2008.
Whatever the amount, it is, however, common knowledge to Zimbabweans that diamonds worth a staggering amount have been pillaged by senior government officials and military officers working with foreigners.
“We have not received much from the diamond industry at all. I don’t think we have exceeded US$2 billion, yet we think more than US$15 billion has been earned,” Mugabe said.
He also pointed out that those he had appointed “to be the eyes and ears” of government supervising operations in Chiadzwa had failed in their task. Obert Mpofu was the minister of Mines during the material period.
The failure to ensure transparency and accountability in the diamond fields is a damning indictment to government and provides plenty of evidence to his critics who argue that Mugabe’s failed leadership is the reason the country’s economy is in the intensive care.
Suppose Mugabe’s estimates are correct, it means the country lost at least US$14 billion — roughly the size of its GDP — an amount that would have easily wiped out its US$10,8 billion debt.
When Tendai Biti was finance minister during the era of the inclusive government, he raised the red flag on several occasions about diamond revenues that were not finding their way to state coffers. However, his complaints and pleas fell on deaf ears as no action was taken by Mugabe to arrest the situation.
Biti said Mugabe’s remarks that Zimbabwe lost nearly US$15 billion worth of diamonds because of the failure by those he had assigned to supervise mining of the precious mineral is “just hypocrisy.”
“I brought up the issue of the theft of diamonds as Finance minister and I even brought confidential reports,” Biti said in an interview this week adding, “I blamed Mpofu for the siphoning of the diamonds and only once was he summoned by Mugabe. For Mugabe to make such statements is just unacceptable and an act of dishonesty.”
Biti said with just US$4 billion of that money he could have completed the expansion of Kariba power station, dualised the Harare-Beitbridge Highway, modernised the country’s dilapidated railway infrastructure and revived industry, especially in “ghost towns such as Bulawayo and Gweru”.
“Just US$4 billion under the right stewardship and in the right hands would transform this country,” Biti said.
Biti said most of the money from diamonds has been looted to buy assets in Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore at the expense of the country’s development mainly by senior Zanu PF officials.
“If stealing was a religion, Zanu PF would be the Pope and Harare the Vatican City,” Biti said.
Economist and Bulawayo South MP Eddie Cross said Mugabe’s remarks point to “a massive theft of national resources”.
“I think the statement by the President is extraordinary and this confirms what we have known for a long time, that the amount of diamond production was very substantial,” Cross said. “My own estimates are that in 2012, 35 million carats of diamonds valued at US$120 a carat were produced. The total value of that would be over US$4 billion which is the country’s national budget.”
He added that diamond production had reduced dramatically since then with 14 million carats produced in 2013 which further went down to 12 million in 2014 before being reduced further to 4,7 million carats in 2015.
Cross said Zimbabwe has very little to show for the diamonds produced in Chiadzwa over the last eight years. He said had the state coffers received two thirds of diamond revenues from the nine companies operating in Chiadzwa as is the case in Botswana, the country “would not be in such a bad state”.
Mugabe’s revelations have prompted calls for him to take action and punish the perpetrators as well as those who allowed such looting to occur.
However, Mugabe has a dismal record when it comes to acting against corruption.
Asked if he thought Mugabe would take action on the looters, Cross said: “You know the answer to that better than me.”
In many cases Mugabe has done nothing as his cronies looted from government or ran down parastatals.
His reluctance to tackle corruption was highlighted by his failure to act after receiving evidence from former South African President Thabo Mbeki that his ministers were demanding bribes.
Despite promising to take action, while addressing the 2012 Zanu PF conference, Mugabe did nothing thereafter.
“I was getting complaints from outside. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki was saying some of their people in the ANC wanted to come intending to do business and this is what they have been told: ‘If you want to do this business, you bring US$5 million and from that US$5 million we take US$1 million that we will take to the minister to give to the president’,” Mugabe said.
Even as far back as the early 1990s, Mugabe failed to act decisively against corrupt officials.
Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has repeatedly unearthed massive corruption in government ministries, parastatals and state institutions, but nothing is done to stop the cancer of corruption and the attendant rot.'