FINANCE minister Tendai Biti yesterday deftly tucked under Treasury a US$50 million unallocated contingency fund –– which was not announced to the public during his national budget presentation in parliament –– to cater for fresh elections whenever they are held.Biti also dropped clear hints that elections were looming after he set aside US$30 million for the referendum and US$20 million for other electoral matters.
This came as South African President Jacob Zuma, Sadc facilitator in Zimbabwe, was due to arrive in Harare today in a bid to sort out numerous problems threatening the existence of the inclusive government and clarify the issue of elections. Although Zuma discussed the issue of polls with Zimbabwean political leaders in Gaborone last week, his visit was likely to take the country a step further towards elections despite growing demands for a clear-cut road map to polls free of manipulation, violence and intimidation.
Biti allocated US$30 for the referendum on the new constitution which is likely to take place during the first quarter of next year ahead of elections in June. He also set aside US$20 million for by-elections, voters’ roll, delimitation of constituencies and infrastructure for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Informed government sources said while the minister did not specifically budget for elections and make it public, there was an unallocated US$50 million reserve fund under the Finance ministry which could be used to bankroll elections likely to be held by June next year.
“If the referendum costs US$30 million, then it is likely that the elections would also cost around US$30 million,” a senior government official said. “However, the referendum and other election-related issues (which need US$20 million) would altogether cost US$50 million. As a result of this there are some unallocated reserves of at least US$50 million which have been set aside and that’s your contingency fund for elections.”
While the election funding issue appeared touch-and-go, Biti warned that a dark cloud of political uncertainty was hanging over the country as bitter wrangling within the unstable inclusive government intensifies. The infighting is endangering economic recovery and prospects of a swift return to normalcy.
Biti made the remarks while presenting his US$3,2 billion national budget in parliament. He said the government of national unity (GNU) was reeling from a series of problems, including political bickering over hotly-contested lingering Global Political Agreement (GPA) issues. Some of the contentious issues include appointments of provincial governors, ambassadors and judges, as well central bank governor and attorney-general.
“The problems are huge and structural and will require unrelenting effort to resolve. They can be divided into political, social, institutional and economic categories as I see them,” Biti said.
The minister listed “political challenges around GNU; discord in the GNU; lack of certainty on the tenure of the GNU; GPA contestation and outstanding issues; democracy and rule of law deficit; cyclical and turbulent nature of the country’s politics; lack of finality on the land reform programme; lack of definition of a clear land tenure system; Zimbabwe’s isolation and lack of integration” as some of the most serious troubles besetting government.
Zuma is expected to hold crucial talks with the country’s top political leadership, President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, over the problematic residual GPA issues and elections next year. This followed an abortive meeting of the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security in Gaborone, Botswana last week.
“Zuma is coming tomorrow and he wants Zimbabwean leaders to be serious about issues,” a senior Sadc diplomat said yesterday. “His position is that they must implement what they agreed upon and agree on a road map to elections. Sadc leaders are increasingly getting fed up with this drawn-out political stalemate and never-ending bickering in Zimbabwe. They want a resolution of this standoff.”
The diplomat said Sadc leaders now firmly believe free and fair elections are the only effective way to end Zimbabwe’s decade-long political crisis which wrecked the economy and left the country in ruins.
While there were indications that elections could be coming, questions were being raised as to why the issue of the funding of elections was not dealt with forthrightly. Mugabe is feverishly pushing for elections by June next year, but is facing stiff resistance from his MPs who are opposed to the polls.
Tsvangirai is cautiously saying he wants elections but under conditions free of political violence and intimidation. Zimbabwe’s elections have often been characterised by brutality and coercion.
Despite opposition to the polls by MPs, Zanu PF is due to endorse the call for elections by June next year and Mugabe as the party’s presidential election candidate at its forthcoming annual conference in Mutare next month. The party’s politburo on Wednesday endorsed the issue, starting a process of getting it approved through party structures. Mugabe said he was disinclined to proceed with the inclusive government beyond February next year.
Biti said, apart from political troubles, the coalition government was also dogged by a series of problems, including social and economic ones, something which paints a gloomy picture of situation ahead.