Mugabe, officials owe RBZ millions

President Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace and top securocrats are among the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s biggest debtors and the prime beneficiaries of its farm mechanisation programme, says former finance minister Tendai Biti.

Grace Mugabe
Grace Mugabe

This is why the ResBank, with the connivance of Zanu (PF) MPs, is resisting attempts to force it to publish its list of debtors. Last month it published the list of creditors on a parliamentary order paper but left out the debtors. Opposition MPs and other critics are insisting that, before Zimbabwean taxpayers are forced to inherit the $1,3 billion debt, they need to know who borrowed the money and why they have not paid it back.

"Everyone in Zanu (PF), including Mugabe himself, benefited from Gono's quasi-fiscal and illegal activities through the farm mechanisation programme. In fact, the problem is much bigger than that. There is fear that a disclosure of the debtors would expose the RBZ itself because it engaged in the quasi-fiscal accumulation of properties such as Tuli mine (rich in methane, coal and diamonds) near Beitbridge and Homelink. While the sale of these assets can clear the debt without government assuming responsibility, they don’t want the spotlight to be on RBZ," said Biti.

The RBZ last month published its list of creditors on parliament’s order paper but left out the debtors, which opposition MPs and other critics say must be made public as well.

Observers say the involvement of Mugabe and his top lieutenants could be the reason why RBZ and government are reluctant to publicise the names of people who owe the central bank millions of dollars.

At the insistence of Joseph Made, the Minister of Agriculture, the RBZ gave to the Mugabe family Gushungo Holdings in Mazowe district and other farms with state-of-the-art equipment that included combine harvesters, generators and tractors under the mechanisation programme.

Made was Mugabe’s blue-eyed minister who personally supervised farming processes at Gushungo Holdings. In addition all top, middle rank and some junior officers in the army, police, central intelligence and prison services received various forms of equipment that were supposed to be paid for later.

Some resettled war veterans who spearheaded land seizures from commercial farmers also received equipment and farming inputs under the programme.

All Zanu (PF) cabinet ministers and judges at the time received implements and vehicles. There were numerous reports of them selling or giving the goods to relatives and friends. Members of Parliament, including those belonging the MDC, were given luxury vehicles by the RBZ.

Observers have expressed concern that judges and public law officers are on the list of debtors, saying that their involvement compromises justice delivery. A number of private individuals and companies also owe the RBZ, having received loans from the central bank under unclear circumstances.

One such individual is Temba Mliswa, who still owes RBZ at least $12.5 million after his company, Saltlakes Holdings, borrowed from the RBZ in tranches. He has appeared in court for allegedly swindling the bank, but has vowed that he will return the money when Zimbabwe goes back to the Zimdollar which was abandoned in 2009.

David Chapfika, the Zanu (PF) MP who chairs the parliamentary portfolio committee on finance and economic development, has come out in defence of a gag on the identities of institutions and individuals who owe the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) millions of dollars.

This comes amid mounting debate on a proposed law, the RBZ Debt Assumption Bill, as government plans to take over the central bank’s debt – purportedly to clean up its balance sheet, increase its capacity to borrow and restore confidence in the financial system.

Opposition MPs are against the bill, insisting that it would push up the national debt by the $1.35 billion that RBZ is owed by thousands of debtors.

Chapfika insisted that revealing the list of debtors would lead to many problems. “To publicise is opening yourselves up to all sorts of litigation and unnecessary chaos. There are bound to be mistakes in the list and this will cause problems. While should we be concentrating on exposing those that owe the RBZ instead of just moving forward?” he said.

He refused to comment on RBZ’s decision to publish the names of creditors only and referred the question to the finance ministry. He admitted that the RBZ had no mandate to engage in quasi-fiscal activities in the period between 2000 and 2009, but said it was forced to do so because Zimbabwe was “under sanctions”.

“Normally, a central bank must not do what RBZ did, but perhaps there were capacity challenges in the mother ministry. I know, for a fact, that the ministry wrote letters to RBZ giving it the nod to engage in quasi-fiscal activities,” added Chapfika.

He admitted that RBZ gave farming equipment to thousands of farmers under the $200 million farm mechanisation programme without first doing a needs assessment, saying some of the equipment that the central bank procured was not suitable for Zimbabwe. Chapfika insisted that government must take over the RBZ debt because the bank was doing a national duty to ensure the land “reform” programme was a success.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has also defended the RBZ activities, saying the bank was acting as a government agent and the debt must be taken over.

“The Reserve Bank acted as an agent and should have never put those debts on its balance sheet, it is our (government) responsibility that we take over the debts as long as they are validated and verified,” he said.

Former RBZ governor Gideon Gono has in the past refused to name the beneficiaries of the farm mechanisation programme, saying the law prohibited him from doing so.

“Section 60 (1) of the RBZ Act [Chapter 22:15] forbids bank staff from disclosing information relating to the affairs of the bank or a customer unless lawfully required to do so by any court or under any enactment,” Gono said in 2012.

Post published in: Mugabe Succession
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