A RAGING storm has erupted from the US$200 million farm mechanisation debt which was offloaded by political elites onto the shoulders of taxpayers.
Public and publicly guaranteed debt cannot be considered a state secret. All debt contracted by the government must be communicated to the National Assembly. This is not happening. What is worse is the placing of such toxic debts on the shoulders of taxpayers.
Former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono has tried to defend the farm mechanisation scheme. His effort to defend the indefensible raises more questions than answers.
He stunned Zimbabweans this week when he asked how, as central bank governor, he could be expected to defy the government’s directive to offload the debt to taxpayers. To be fair to him, though, he lamented the strictures imposed on public officials by the Official Secrets Act. Since 1980, the abuse of this particular law by scoundrels in public administration has become a danger to national survival. Public officials should not find comfort in the warped idea that this piece of legislation protects them from scrutiny.
The handling of the farm mechanisation scheme and the subsequent offloading of the debt to taxpayers lacked transparency and accountability. If we had a law-abiding government, a commission of inquiry would have long been instituted.
How on earth can anyone defend a scheme that recklessly handed out farm equipment to mostly politically connected persons at taxpayers’ expense? Even people who were not farmers got expensive equipment. Some of these bogus beneficiaries made a quick buck by leasing out the equipment to real farmers. State-funded diesel was sold on the parallel market by opportunists. Some of the tractors were seen towing trailers full of commuters, converted into makeshift public transport vehicles.
Another governance issue arises from this scandal: the RBZ’s institutional independence evaporated a long time ago. It was turned into a convenient piggybank for the political elite. Institutional decay is one of the factors at the heart of Zimbabwe’s long-standing governance crisis.
Let us face the facts. Who is paying the US$200 million farm mechanisation scheme debt? That liability has been placed on the shoulders of taxpayers. Most Zimbabweans are wallowing in hunger and poverty. There is neither a legal nor moral argument that can ever justify such naked looting.
The government must abide by the founding values and principles of this republic. The opening line to the preamble of the constitution reads: “We the people …” It does not say “We the politburo members” or “We the political overlords”. The supreme law correctly asserts the sovereignty of the people.
Both the nation’s founding values and principles as well as the principles governing public administration emphasise the tenets of good governance: transparency, accountability, justice and responsiveness.