WHILE the European Union (EU) seems to have warmed up to what it sees as progress by the Zanu PF government in key areas including democracy, rule of law and security of investment, there is concern that government has not made sufficient progress on these fronts.
Zimbabwe and the EU are currently engaged in crucial negotiations that could throw a lifeline to the cash-strapped Zanu PF government that is now struggling to pay civil servants on time.
This is against the backdrop of an economic malaise characterised by a liquidity crunch and company closures among other worrying signs.
Should the two parties reach an agreement, the EU will, for the first time in more than a decade, help finance Zimbabwe’s budget.
They are currently involved in cautious discussions on modalities of implementation which should be finalised by November.
The EU stopped direct aid to government in 2002 after imposing restrictive measures on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle as well as companies linked to them over accusations of gross human rights violations, democratic principles and the rule of law under the Cotonou Agreement.
The shift in prioritisation of funding from civil society organisations to a Zanu PF-controlled government by the European Union has raised concerns in the NGO sector on sustainability as many believe human rights violations and corruption in the public sector remain rampant.
NGOs who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent on condition of anonymity had reservations over government’s commitment to reform, saying it had not adequately put in place systems to ensure accountability and transparency in the administration of public finances, including its procurement and tendering systems.
They based their reservations on the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office reports that accuse state-owned companies, government departments and local government of corruption and financial abuse. Despite the annual reports exposing numerous irregularities, nothing has been done to address the anomalies.
The NGOs also raised questions as to how the funds would be administered amid fears that if the re-engagement exercise was successful, NGOs — perceived by government as promoting a regime change agenda — would be sidelined.
As recently pointed out by Amnesty International, despite the new constitution being in effect for a year, government is yet to amend or repeal all the laws rendered unconstitutional and continues to use them.
In an interview this week, EU ambassador Aldo Dell’Ariccia said the EU had not changed its policies on Zimbabwe and re-engagement with the government started after the establishment of the Global Political Agreement and the Government of National Unity.
He said the EU Council of Ministers decided that in the event there was no serious violations of human rights, no disruption of the democratic order and rule of law, on November 1 2014 Article 96 would be “completely lifted and the EU would enter into normal relations with the government of Zimbabwe”.
Dell’Ariccia said: “This means that there is a possibility from the first of November of co-operating directly with government. At present our co-operation is mainly channelled through the UN organisations, not NGOs. The support for NGOs is marginal as compared to the one that is implemented through UN agencies.
“It is possible that some of the money will be channelled through government using appropriate mechanisms that will permit that the EU can, at any moment, audit the use of the funds.
He said co-operation through the NGOs is likely to continue in areas where the organisations have a comparative advantage in terms of their capacity to access directly the beneficiaries of the development aid.
Dell’Ariccia said last week’s meeting to discuss the draft National Indicative Programme (NIP) was frank, open and constructive adding that it was enough to demonstrate that the fears of the NGOs were “unfounded”.
The draft NIP has been agreed between government, EU and about 150 civil society organisations from all sectors that include the private sector and parliamentary committees.
According to the draft NIP, the EU proposes to fund €88 million to the health sector, €88 million to agriculture-based economic development while governance and institution building will get €45 million. Civil society support is set at €6 million while support to the national authorising officer will be €3 million; the technical co-operation facility will get €4 million.
The EU resident representative said the re-engagement negotiations with Zanu PF did not mean the EU was saying there are no human rights violations.
“I am saying there is an improvement. There are investigations going on for cases that have been reported. We have seen some positive judgments by the tribunals and these are the elements we are considering,” he said. “We observed recent land invasions and the invaders were evicted by the authorities. We have assurances that the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas) would be respected. Which means in case there are expropriations, due compensation would be paid.
“If Zimbabwe wants to promote investment it has to put in place mechanisms that will permit the interests of the investors to be protected. In this sense, we have been hearing good and positive messages coming from the government at the highest level. But we are waiting now to see how these good intentions are translated into properly gazetted cabinet decisions that will ensure transparency, accountability and equal treatment of all stakeholders.”
The lifting of the economic measures will enable Zimbabwe to benefit from the 11th European Development Fund which supports development programmes in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries and runs from 2014 to 2020.