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Utete report dodges issues

Staff Writer

THE long-awaited Utete report, which had been expected to provide a detailed audit of the fast-track land reform and its impact on the economy, has turned out to be a politi

cal smokescreen aimed at whitewashing the damaging consequences of the programme.

Instead of providing a technical review of the programme, thePresidential Land Review Commit-tee report, produced by a publicly-financed team led by former Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Charles Utete, is saturated with Zanu PF mantras and lacks analytical depth.

It ignores the link between land reform and economic decline and skates over the destruction of commercial agriculture and the plunder of billions of dollars’ worth of equipment by the ruling elite.

The report makes extraordinary claims about the country’s multi-layered crisis. It suggests the land reform programme itself did not precipitate economic deterioration but was the victim of a period of “poor performance and decline in the national economy”. Sanctions are also blamed.

“Simultaneously with the im-position of what were euphemistically termed ‘smart sanctions’ against certain prominent persons in the public and private life of Zimbabwe,” it says, “was the drying up of foreign currency inflows relating to foreign direct investment, official development assistance, and certain trade and other concessions.”

The report glosses over the issue of multiple-farm ownership which President Mugabe had led the public to believe was the central focus of the investigation. A task force will look into that, it says, thus sweeping it under the government’s extensive political carpet.

No serious remedial measures are recommended besides the enlargement of government by creating two ministries for land and agriculture, among other bureaucratic changes. It proposes the setting up of marketing, research and agricultural development systems to replace those methodically destroyed over the past three years.

The report justifies the fast-track resettlement exercise, which it claims was an “overwhelming success”, on the basis of stale Zanu PF mantras. It names foreign powers and the media as major challenges to the exercise, not lack of resources or inadequate planning.

“Not least of these was a hostile external environment characterised by a relentless foreign media campaign of vilification of the government and the programme and the imposition of sanctions against the country by the UK and its European partners, the so-called white Commonwealth…and the USA,” the report says.

Instead of making a compelling case for land reform, the report cites British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government’s attitude as a reason for it.

Historical impediments, as well as constitutional and legal obstacles, are blamed for lack of progress prior to 2000.

The report says the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU)’s attitude hindered land reform even though land and resources were offered by the same farmers.

“One of the major factors identified for prompting government to undertake this course of action is the rejection of the draft constitution in 2000 through the efforts of British-backed political opponents,” the report says.

“The rejection of the draft con-stitution strengthened the government’s resolve to embark on an accelerated land reform programme.”

It reveals the exercise was undertaken because “white farmers routinely resorted to legal action to protect their ownership rights”.

Utete’s report claims that while Zimbabwe adhered to the Abuja Agreement, Britain reneged on its obligations, making the bargain worthless.

“The above factors combined with the need for economic and social imperatives for poverty alleviation and economic development gave the government no choice but to implement fast-track land reform,” the report says in its explanation of why an arbitrary programme was chosen over a more systematic investment-backed programme which the UNDP was advocating.

However, the report does have a few useful findings. It discloses for instance that the government has misled the public on the numbers of people resettled. Government has been claiming that it has resettled over 300 000 households under fast track but the team only found 127 000.

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