A FIERCE row rocked a cabinet meeting on Tuesday after Finance minister Tendai Biti moved a motion to investigate Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono for allegedly overstepping his mandate by borrowing more than US$1 billion without relevant authority from the treasury.
Informed sources said the cabinet row drew into its vortex President Robert Mugabe, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Didymus Mutasa, Stan Mudenge and Welshman Ncube.
The row demonstrated the intensity of the ongoing power struggle between Biti and Gono. The sources said it also opened a window into the behind-the-scenes fights in the inclusive government.
Mugabe and the other five members of the government executive committee including Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were locked in a crisis meeting until late last night – the third one inside a week. Others present were vice-presidents Joseph Msika and Joice Mujuru and deputy prime ministers Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe.
Informed sources said all hell broke loose in cabinet after Biti told ministers that the Reserve Bank and Gono must be investigated over the central bank’s US$1,2 billion debt.
Gono had between 2004 and 2008 borrowed a total of US$5,3 billion. Biti said Gono had done this without approval. Gono however insists he had and has shown Biti what he said were letters of authorisation from past finance ministers.
Biti provoked the fracas through his presentation prompting angry reactions from Mugabe, Mumbengegwi, Mutasa, Mudenge and Mnangagwa. The ministers said that investigating Gono was tantamount to probing the conduct of Mugabe’s previous regime. They said instead of investigating Gono, there should be a probe of those who campaigned for sanctions which, they claimed, ruined the economy.Â
Sources said Ncube tried to calm down ministers, saying if the issue was about central bank reform, it was fine, but if it was settling old scores it was not necessary. They said Mugabe declared that Gono would not be investigated and that if anyone did that unilaterally, they would collapse the inclusive government.
Mutambara countered Mugabe, saying Biti had a right to probe Gono.
Sources said Mugabe declared with finality the issue was out of order, forcing Biti to climb down. Tsvangirai reportedly kept quiet.Â Â Â
Biti had presented a report from the ministerial economic committee, which brings together economic ministries, which met on Monday to discuss the Gono issue. The meeting had decided Gono should be investigated and this was brought to the attention of cabinet on Tuesday.
Zanu PF ministers on the ministerial economic committee reportedly supported Biti to probe Gono. These included Herbert Murerwa, Francis Nhema, Sithembiso Nyoni and Saviour Kasukuwere. Opposition minister Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga reportedly opposed the plan to investigate Gono.Â Â
The Monday meeting followed a meeting on Friday last week between Biti and Reserve Bank senior officials where there were exchanges over cars which had been given to MPs, central bank reforms – particularly the removal of Gono as Reserve Bank board chairman – government purchase of gold, and the government mission to Washington DC for Spring meetings with the IMF and the World Bank.
Biti is leading a government delegation to the meetings which start tomorrow. There was a quarrel last Friday on the inclusion of Gono’s advisor, Munyaradzi Kereke, in the team. Biti tried to remove Kereke from the delegation, saying he was on the American sanctions list, only to be told that was not true.
Kereke hit back saying in any case even if Biti’s assertion was true, the IMF and World Bank meetings were exempt from travel restrictions.
Biti ordered Gono at last Friday’s meeting to take back the 50 cars he had distributed to MPs. Gono reacted by putting an insert in the Herald on Monday urging MPs to return the cars and surrender them to Biti.
Despite recent claims by Biti and Gono that they were not fighting, events have proved they are locked in a conflict threatening to paralyse the inclusive government. Gono in his insert all but confirmed that.
Biti told the Friday meeting that Gono had violated Section 33 of the Reserve Bank Act by “over-committing government through the US$1,1 billion RBZ debt” without authorisation. Biti was backed by Ministry of Finance Accountant General Judith Madzorera. Kereke however said Gono had authority to borrow. Cabinet on Tuesday scuttled Biti’s agenda.
BY DUMISANI MULEYA
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