Western embassies lobby against Zim arrears plan

“Western embassies will not support Zimbabwe except the British who want the Harare issue to be rolled over to 2017,” a source said, adding: “The British want the rolling over to be a carrot for Zimbabwe so that it implements some reforms. Withholding the money is the stick.”

LESS than a month before the African Development Bank (AfDB) board meeting scheduled for December 7, some influential Western embassies in Harare are strongly lobbying against Zimbabwe’s arrears clearance plan to international financial institutions, arguing that the country has not instituted required far-reaching reforms.

By Elias Mambo

Zimbabwe is expecting to receive US$600 million through a bridge facility which will, in turn, clear its arrears to the regional bank.

Diplomatic sources this week said there is anxiety within government after the World Bank Group (WBG) failed to deliver a letter of comfort which would have given the green light to the arrears clearance plan — by November 15 — so that Zimbabwe could be considered for the Transition Support Facility Pillar II resources for arrears clearance of fragile states which include Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

“The World Bank was supposed to issue a letter of comfort following Zimbabwe’s payment of US$108 million to the IMF but this has not taken place,” said a source.

Sources also said the Western diplomats are not going to support Zimbabwe if its issue is discussed even on the margins of the board meeting.

“Western embassies will not support Harare except the British who want the Zimbabwe issue to be rolled over to 2017,” a source said, adding: “The British want the rolling over to be a carrot for Zimbabwe so that it implements some reforms. Withholding the money is the stick.”

Less than two months before the window for accessing the bridge facility closes, Zimbabwe is frantically scrambling to secure US$600 million from the regional bank to clear its arrears and avert a catastrophic setback in efforts to rescue the sinking economy.

Against this backdrop, Harare wants the AfDB board meeting slated for December 7 to extend the window for it to access the bridge finance. It reportedly has the support of the British government and embassy in Harare which is now pushing for regime retention, not regime change as London previously preferred.

This came at a time Zimbabwe had cleared its US$108 million debt with the IMF. Zimbabwe has been in arrears since 2001 and had to use its allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) allocated to all IMF member states in 2009 as part of a global financial rescue package to clear the outstanding amount.

Diplomatic sources also said Zimbabwe has shown no appetite for reform, and there are fears that any fresh funding which may be obtained could be abused as the ruling Zanu PF prepares for the 2018 elections.

“It is clear that Zimbabwe has no appetite for reforms because political reforms may deal a blow to them, while economic reforms are the only way to go,” said the source.

“Western embassies also fear that any new funding which Zimbabwe gets may be abused as President Robert Mugabe’s regime has its focus on the 2018 general elections.”

However in a response the British embassy said they are pressing for reforms before any discussion with the IMF.

“We are on record pressing for urgent and deep seated economic and political reform. There must be a track record of such reform before there can be any possibility of discussions by the boards of the IMF, World Bank and AfDB of further support to Zimbabwe. We will not allow there to be any short cuts in this process or any form of unconditional “bail out”.

“Our position is not isolated but reflects a common position shared by all EU members and many of our other partners. Like many partners we are concerned by the slow pace of reform since the Lima plan was announced as well as a declining human rights situation,” read the statement.

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