PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has taken dramatic steps to resolve the conflict between Finance minister Tendai Biti and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono which has partially paralysed government operations as the two battled for control of the financial levers of the state.
Tsvangirai’s move could bring an end to a long drawn-out struggle which has been going on since February while disrupting the smooth running of government.
Biti and Gono have been fighting over a wide range of issues. Their turf war spread to reforms of the central bank, including amendments to the Reserve Bank Act designed to rein-in Gono. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill is expected to be tabled when parliament resumes sitting on October 28.
A bruising fight is expected in parliament across party political lines unless Tsvangirai defuses tensions between the two beforehand. MDC MPs are likely to support the amendments while Zanu PF legislators could resist them, creating a potentially explosive situation in the delicately-balanced lower house and a stumbling block in the Zanu PF-controlled senate.
Biti and Gono have also been fighting over the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s US$512 million funds given to Zimbabwe, government loans, debt clearance strategy, control of central bank assets, correlation between fiscal and monetary policies and even the distribution of Reserve Bank cars and other official vehicles to MPs and ministers.
Informed sources said Tsvangirai, who has been exploring ways of resolving the issue for months now, met Biti and Gono yesterday for lunch at his Strathaven house in Harare. The prime minister had initially met the two at his Munhumutapa offices on Tuesday and Wednesday before yesterday’s meeting.
Tsvangirai’s spokesman James Maridadi confirmed the meetings. “What I know is that the prime minister met them separately yesterday (Wednesday) and was further supposed to meet them today (Thursday) as well,” Maridadi said.
Biti was not available for comment. His cellphone was repeatedly busy at the time of calling before it became unreachable.
Gono would neither confirm nor deny the meetings.
“Which meetings exactly am I said to have attended with the prime minister? When and where? To discuss what? If indeed I met him what’s wrong with that? Am I not part of the inclusive government?” Gono said.
“Is your paper trying to say it must be consulted first about my diary or that of the prime minister before people could hold meetings or do business? Is the prime minister or myself prohibited from holding meetings and which law says that?”
The battle over IMF funds has been damaging. Although Biti got the IMF’s backing, most of the money remained in Gono’s custody. The minister argued as head of treasury and fiscal authority, he was empowered in terms of the constitution to assume control of IMF funds, while the central governor said he had jurisdiction as chief policy advisor to government on monetary issues.
Biti said the bulk of the money would go to infrastructure development, lines of credit for exporters and budgetary support. Gono wanted the money directed into mining, manufacturing, tourism, recapitalisation of public enterprises and repayment of government debts. Tsvangirai is said to have proposed a plan of how the money should be spent.