Zimbabwe elections funding dilemma persists

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PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and the top brass of the Joint Operations Command (Joc) have ordered private auctioning of the Chiadzwa diamonds to raise money for general elections after rejecting funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which partly financed the new constitution.

Report by Brian Chitemba/Owen Gagare

This comes after Finance minister Tendai Biti has repeatedly warned that despite the chaotic haste by Mugabe and Zanu PF for elections, there is no money to fund the polls ahead of nomination of election candidates today.

Biti has said US$132 million is needed for elections, although Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson Justice Rita Makarau says they want US$164 million.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said in an interview yesterday Biti had proposed the initiative to raise money from diamond companies, although he abandoned the idea after the current row sparked by Mugabe’s proclamation of July 31 as the general elections date and amendments to the Electoral Act by decree.

Biti had proposed a Bill to compel diamond companies to fund elections, Charamba said.

“It was proposed by the Finance minister (Biti) that the government raise funds from diamond companies. But Biti dropped the idea after the MDC (parties) criticised the president for using the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to amend the Electoral Act,” said Charamba.

Efforts to get comment from Biti were unsuccessful yesterday. He also did not reply to a short message service dispatch to him.

Mugabe’s fellow principals and party political leaders, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube, say the unilateral proclamation and arbitrary amendments to the Electoral Act are unconstitutional, leaving the process fraught with illegalities and disputes.

Besides political problems, Treasury is broke to fund elections. Government struggled to fund the constitutional referendum in March before it was rescued by the National Social Security Authority and Old Mutual who contributed US$20 million each to the process which cost over US$50 million. The new constitution also cost over US$50 million and the UNDP and donors contributed about US$22 million.

Diamond mining and telecommunications companies as well as other big corporates which had promised funds did not honour their pledges for various reasons. However, the Zimbabwe Independent understands there is a new secret bid to raise money for the elections after a few big local companies pledged over US$100 million so far.

Sources said security service chiefs — believed to be the power behind Mugabe — held a meeting in Harare two weeks ago with executives from Mbada Diamonds, Marange Resources and the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) where the companies were instructed to privately sell the gems. ZDI, which is headed by Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube, generates revenue from sale of ammunition and Joc believes the entity can play a major role in sourcing funding for the polls.

Government initially wrote to the UNDP seeking US$225 million after it had only budgeted for US$25 million to fund elections. However, the initiative fell through after Mugabe and Zanu PF ministers blocked a UNDP electoral assessment mission from coming to Zimbabwe to do its routine work of meeting stakeholders and checking on the political environment before releasing the money as it always does around the world.

After rejecting the UNDP funding, government formed a cabinet committee comprising deputy premier Arthur Mutambara, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and Biti to mobilise funds. They only got part of the money for the referendum.

Government is even struggling to raise about US$12 million to fund the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly in Victoria Falls in August. It has failed to disburse the US$6,5 million it had promised. Tourism minister Walter Mzembi has now resorted to private sector funding.

Sadc leaders have promised to help Zimbabwe with funding as long as the country follows the Global Political Agreement, the basis of the current coalition government, and the agreed elections roadmap.

The initiative could also be stifled as Joc chiefs no longer trust regional leaders after they blocked Mugabe’s manoeuvres recently in Maputo, pressuring him to go back to the Constitutional Court to seek an extension to the elections date and to restore legality to the electoral process.

“The security chiefs are not comfortable with Sadc money because they argue that seeking foreign funding is tantamount to inviting foreign interference in running the affairs of the country,” one source said this week. “The military believes some of the Sadc governments may be pushing for regime change, especially Botswana, which is believed to have strong links with the United States.”

As a result, Joc bosses are said to have joined the official scrounging for money to fund elections targeting diamond companies.

“There have been a series of private meetings between the military top brass and executives from Mbada, Marange Resources and ZDI to discuss how to raise funds for elections,” said another source. “Joc said it was crucial to source funds from within the country because they view elections as a matter of national security. ZDI was also involved because it generates a lot of money from selling ammunition.”

Government struggled to finance the referendum through an increase of petrol and diesel prices by US$0,05 to US$1,57 and US$1,40 respectively. Biti says even if they increase fuel prices again, the inclusive government can only raise US$50 million by December.

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