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Court action exposes hidden debts

BY SHAME MAKOSHORI

IT took a bold Harare North legislator, Allan Norman Markham, and the Community Water Alliance Trust to approach the courts and force Finance minister Mthuli Ncube to disclose the debts that he accumulated from 2017 and 2019 without briefing Zimbabweans.

But when the disclosure came out last Friday, it fell far short of responding to the questions that the estimated 15 million Zimbabweans would want answered.

It did not disclose how much of their mineral resources have been mortgaged to fund lesser transparent interventions.

In many ways, the US$1,4 billion disclosed in last Friday’s Government Gazette stunned a nation that is scrounging to find solutions to a vexing economic crisis.

Why the minister had kept the nation in the dark remains a mystery.

What did the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), whose debts government guaranteed, do with the US$1,4 billion?

Has the money been repaid and if so, by what means?

Did the RBZ leave more debts when it paid for whatever services it used the money for?

If so, have such debts been paid, and how much more is being considered in terms of fresh borrowings?

Did Ncube seek Parliament’s approval before guaranteeing the RBZ and, if so, why was the evidence not published?

Legislators have been extremely concerned about the way the debt profile is rocketing without their knowledge.

In fact, last week’s Government Gazette should have been one of the biggest opportunities to demonstrate that  Ncube is ready to move forward transparently.

Instead, this is how he chose to update Zimbabweans.

“It is hereby notified that, in terms of section 300 (3) of the constitution of Zimbabwe, that on the 21st May, 2019, the government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, acting through the minister responsible for Finance and Economic Development, was a guarantor to a loan agreement concluded between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, represented by the governor, and the African Export Import Bank on the following terms — (a) the loan is the amount of five-hundred million United States dollars (US$500 000 000),” read part of the notice.

“It is hereby notified that, in terms of section 300 (3) of the constitution of Zimbabwe, that on the 27th of December, 2017, the government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, acting through the minister responsible for Finance and Economic Development, was a guarantor to a loan agreement concluded between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, represented by the governor, and the African Export Import Bank on the following terms — (a) the loan is the amount of six-hundred million United States dollars (US$600 000 000).

“It is hereby notified that, in terms of section 300 (3) of the constitution of Zimbabwe, that on the 31st of December, 2019, the government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, acting through the minister responsible for Finance and Economic Development, was a guarantor to a loan agreement concluded between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, represented by the governor, and the African Export Import Bank on the following terms — (a) the loan is the amount of three-hundred million United States dollars (US$300 000 000),” said the Government Gazette.

These debts were accumulated from one of the few funders still deploying loans to Harare following an exodus of multiple international financial institutions.

If it was in international or diplomatic relations, Afreximbank would be defined as “an all-weather friend”.

But the surety that the “all-weather friend” demands is heavy.

Afreximbank may end up controlling swathes of Zimbabwe’s multibillion dollar unexploited resources, at the rate at which the hunger to borrow has been unfolding — US$1,4 billion in only two years is no joke for a fragile economy.

Perhaps it will take  Markham and the Community Water Alliance Trust to approach the High Court to force Ncube to make full and appropriate disclosures again.

The minister is fully briefed about how important it is to brief stakeholders about how their wealth is being expended — he should be learning from the Securities and Exchange Commission of Zimbabwe’s (SecZim) tough stance against half-baked disclosures by listed companies.

SecZim reports to him.

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