Zim's huge debt very worrying, says UNDP

CASH-STRAPPED Zimbabwe's huge and soaring debt is extremely worrying and must be dealt with for the Mid Term Development Programme (MTDP) to succeed, says John Mahmoud, a Senior United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official.

Tapiwa Mashakada
Tapiwa Mashakada

The MTDP is scheduled to last for five years according to the Minister on International Co-operation and Investment Promotion, Tapiwa Mashakada.

"Zimbabwe is highly indebted," Mahmoud said in Harare.

"There is serious need to deal with this huge debt. The debt issue around our necks has to be solved and the Mid Term Development Plan will not take us anywhere if we do not deal with it and deal with now.

"There is very serious need for the Government of National Unity (GNU) to deal with debt and get it out of the way because it is a serious matter to us at the UNDP too."

Analysts and economic commentators point out that the GNU desperately needs $45 billion over the next 10 years to regain the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) levels it boasted back in 1997 when the economy was kicking.

Deprose Muchena, Deputy Director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) said if the GNU needs to find $8,3 billion in the short term for its recovery programme on top of its current debt obligations, then Zimbabwe somehow has to find $15 billion in the short term.

"Overall, following the cumulative economic contraction between 1998 and 2008, the country needs $45 billion over the next 10 years to regain the GDP levels it boasted back in 1997," he said.

He said Zimbabwe's sovereign debt overhang had not improved since the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) or the inauguration of the Inclusive Government of President Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF, Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T and Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara of the MDC.

Dr Washington Mbizvo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education said the country had a huge debt problem because it had done lots for the education sector including building schools and sending primary school children to school free of charge.

"We must not look at the debt issue blindly," Mbizvo said in response to Mahmoud.

"Zimbabwe has done and spent a lot on its education sector and we have lots to show for it."

Muchena, meanwhile, said the country's huge debt problem was not set to improve in the "near future because the country still needed to battle to finance its economic recovery and social development programmes".

Zimbabwe's exact debt is debatable as official figures vary.

Analysts say Zimbabwe faces a debt overhang conservatively estimated at $6,9 billion – including $5,2 billion in external debt.

Of the publicly guaranteed debt, $3,2 billion is in arrears – including $1,3 billion owed to multilateral creditors such as the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as well as other international institutions.

Zimbabwe owes $1,6 billion to bilateral creditors such as the prestigious Paris Club and many other individual countries and $200 million to credit suppliers.

Some, however, say the country's total extrnal debt stock stands in the region of $7 billion.

"The first step is for Zimbabweans and the international community – to publicly acknowledge the size of the debt problem and how it is acting as a serious drag on the economic ship of State," Muchena said in his analysis of the debt problem.

"While civil society orgnanisations in Zimbabwe have highlighted the issue, some leements of the Inclusive Government continue to deny the shocking reality of Zimbabwe's indebtedness.

"In particular, there has been fierce opposition to declaring Zimbabwe a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC), despite the fact that it is exactly that. But the issue is not about whather to decalre the country a HIPC or not.

"Zimbabwe has already been declared a crisis country, a fragie State, a failed State, and a low income country under stress among others.

"These declarations do not resolve anything. Specific policy, legislative and economic governance measures are seriously needed."

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