Panic over poll funding

ALTHOUGH the broke unity government struggled to mobilise funds for the constitution referendum, mainly by squeezing out money from private companies, officials are now panicking over raising adequate resources for the elections expected in July as it remains unclear how much the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would contribute.

Owen Gagare

Finance minister Tendai Biti was yesterday supposed to brief the media on the referendum, elections and state of the economy, but cancelled the press conference until Monday. Official sources said while a few private sector companies had contributed, government was still in a financial fix over funding of electoral processes.

“Government, which is penniless, is in a financial crisis despite claims by some it is doing well in its fund-raising initiative,” a senior minister said. “Although the money for the referendum is now there, the reality is the UNDP might not provide enough to bridge the gap as it did during the constitution-making process when, together with the Zimbabwe Institute, it contributed US$22,1 million out of the US$50,7m used.

Government actually provided more than donors as it chipped in with US$28,6m.”

Sources said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), which will conduct the referendum and elections, was yet to get adequate resources. The body is funded from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Other sources of funds include fees and charges for services, proceeds of any penalties imposed, deposits forfeited by candidates, donations or grants approved by the Finance minister and returns on investments.

“Just a week before the referendum, Zec is still struggling financially and logistically,” another official said. “The problem is that it was not given enough resources and time.” Zec acting chairperson Joyce Kazembe last night refused to comment.

Zec had initially drawn a budget of US$220m for the referendum and elections, but the amount was later revised downwards to US$192m after the scrapping of the delimitation of constituencies. It now says at least US$85m is needed for the referendum, while elections would require US$107m.

Government is scrounging for US$250m for the referendum and elections.

Information obtained by the Zimbabwe Independent indicates Biti, who is part of a cabinet committee consisting of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa tasked with fund-raising for the referendum and elections, was worried government — which is collecting US$240m a month on average — was not able to contribute anything meaningful due to limited revenues.

On February 4, Biti wrote to the UNDP resident representative Alain Noudehou asking the body to assist the country mobilise US$250m for the constitutional referendum and elections.

Biti indicated in his letter that although the 2013 budget was ideally supposed to fund both the referendum and the elections, the two processes only had a combined budget provision of US$25m.

Noudehou replied Biti on February 11, saying the UN would first send an electoral assessment mission to Zimbabwe before making a decision on how much it could release. He informed government the request had been transmitted to UN focal point on electoral assistance at the UN headquarters as per the UN guidelines on electoral support.

The assessment team is, however, yet to arrive in the country resulting in pressure increasing on government to find alternative ways of securing resources given authorities do not know to what extent the UNDP would be able to assist.

Worried by the delay, Biti wrote to the inclusive government principals and party political leaders on February 15, noting the UNDP had agreed in principle to help out although their process would take a long time because of bureaucratic procedures which would make it impossible to fund the referendum.

In his letter to principals, Biti said government was collecting an average of US$240m, of which about US$200m goes towards the civil service wage bill, leaving only US$40m for all other government operations.

From that, Biti told President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mutambara and Industry minister Welshman Ncube it was clear government was not able to raise funds for the referendum and elections on its own.

Biti recently wanted the referendum postponed due to financial problems, but Mugabe refused.

In January, for example, government collected US$239,3m against a target of US$273,7m resulting in a shortfall of US$29,4m.

Total disbursements during the month amounted to US$231,8m. Of this, total employment costs were US$194,2m, other recurrent expenditures US$31,2m and capital expenditures US$8,1m. The total expenditure was US$231,9m, leaving a balance of about US$7,4m as build-up for February expenditures.

The inadequate revenue inflows, coupled with uncertainty over UNDP funding, has left government anxious and panicking about how it would fund its key obligations this year.