UNITED States ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols says corruption, and not sanctions, is hurting the economy, fuelled by poor policies and government’s command agriculture programme.
Speaking in an interview with Alpha Media Holdings chairperson Trevor Ncube on In Conversation with Trevor, Nichols said the country’s failure to reform had crippled the economy. He dismissed claims by Zanu PF that sanctions imposed on in 2001 had led to the country’s economic collapse.
“The number one (problem) is the issue of corruption. Corruption has cost this country billions of dollars. The lower estimates are over a billion dollars a year. The recent Auditor-General’s report on command agriculture which is nearly US$3 billion unaccounted for in the audited period which is 2017 and 2018. Just in June to August this year you had payouts to Sakunda Holdings for command agriculture at a preferential rate which increases the money supply in Zimbabwe by 50 %,” he said.
Nichols attributed the systematic fall in value of the Zimbabwean dollar and spiking inflation to illicit financial flows choking the fragile economy.
“You wonder why the exchange rate collapsed and the inflation spiked between June and August this year. It’s that type of operations of illicitly giving people insider sweetheart deals to the detriment of the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
“I categorically reject that argument. First of all on Zidera. What Zidera does is that it instructs the executive directors of international financial institutions not to vote in favour of new loans or debt forgiveness for Zimbabwe unless a series of conditions are met, broadly economic and democratic reforms, and respect for human rights,” Nichols said.
“Those executive directors, the board members in the World Bank, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and African Development Bank have never had a vote on Zimbabwe because this country’s own failure to reform has prevented it from ever reaching consideration for debt relief so as a practical matter Zidera has never come into play.”
Nichols’ remarks come as the Southern African Developmentg Community (Sadc) readies for the anti-sanctions protest tomorrow.
In Zimbabwe, thousands of Zanu PF supporters bussed from various provinces are expected to march from Freedom Square (also known as Robert Mugabe Square) to the National Sports Stadium.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has blamed the worsening economic environment on the punitive measures the West has slapped on Zimbabwe.
The anti-sanctions march was called by Sadc during the bloc’s 39th summit held in September in Tanzania. Similar protests are also expected within the region, as a show of solidarity with Zimbabwe.
The international community has maintained that government should implement far-reaching political and economic reforms as a precondition for the lifting of sanctions. Nichols maintains that sanctions were targeted at 141 individuals and entities, adding that the restriction would only be removed when certain conditions espoused in Zidera are met.
“In 2003, the executive branch added a Zimbabwe sanctions programme which is a targeted programme which currently has 141 persons and entities on it. That’s 0000,6% of the population roughly that’s covered.
“That does not prevent trade with Zimbabwe. I have brought 400 to 500 companies to Zimbabwe to promote our economic relationship. I have been in meetings with General Electric Africa and the President,” he said.
While Mnangagwa is desperately seeking to re-engage with Washington DC after years of a tense standoff over — among other issues — human rights abuses have remained a major setback. The US also expressed concern over the slow pace of implementing legislative reforms that include the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the Public Order and Security Act (Posa).
Nichols said foreign businesses were still concerned about policy inconsistency, adding that international goodwill by foreign businesses had dwindled since last year’s elections.
“In both the run up and the wake of the 2018 elections lots of companies were inquiring about investing in Zimbabwe and there had been no change to our legislation or executive orders at that time.
“The issue is when people get here and they realise that it’s very difficult for them to find an impartial arbitrator when they get into a legal business dispute or set up as a small and medium investor,” Nichols added.
Washington insists that full implementation of the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission recommendations in the wake of the August 1 killings in 2018 would add impetus to Zimbabwe’s reform agenda.
The US has been monitoring the human rights situation in the country and expressed concern over the fresh crackdown on civil society where 50 activists have been abducted since January.