Army's pay withheld in diamond dispute

 

THE FINANCE ministry in Zimbabwe has upped the stakes in the battle to ensure the government benefits from the country’s Marange diamond fields by claiming the military cannot be paid until revenues from the resource reach it.

On Wednesday the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party told reporters the finance ministry it controls in the coalition government with Zanu-PF has received little tax revenue from the companies staffed by loyalists of President Robert Mugabe who mine the area.

The former opposition party said Anjin, the largest mining company operating in Marange, staffed by former military and security officials, had “yet to pay a cent” to the government from its diamond sales.

Earlier this year finance minister Tendai Biti said the country’s annual budget for 2012 relied on a projected $600 million (€477 million) in diamond revenues, but the treasury had received only about $30 million (€24 million) between January and March.

Rights organisations and the MDC have long claimed President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have been siphoning off the profits from the Marange fields since the military took over the area in the east of the country in 2008.

The stand taken by Mr Biti, one of the MDC’s top officials, has caused outrage in the Zanu-PF-controlled defence ministry, which claims it needs the money to pay hungry soldiers and to fund an essential recruitment drive for an additional 5,000 men.

According to the MDC, defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said he would send army generals to Mr Biti’s offices to enforce their demands for payment. The party said he also warned of violence.

Yesterday Mr Biti told parliament the monthly state wage bill had risen to $190 million (€151 million) because of the “illegal hiring” of 4,600 recruits by the army and 5,400 people by other government departments since the start of the year.

Without the diamond revenues, finding additional money to pay the wages of new recruits would require drastic action such as dipping into the state pension fund, he added.

The stand-off between the finance and defence ministries is an example of the growing tensions between the powersharing MDC and Zanu-PF as general elections loom.

The MDC believes Zanu-PF is using part of the diamond revenues to build an election war chest to steal victory in the next polls, due in 12 months.

Traditionally the military has always stood with Zanu-PF and yesterday senior officers continued to back the party’s longstanding leader.

Brig Gen Douglas Nyikayaramba was quoted in the state-run Herald newspaper as saying Mr Mugabe, in power since 1980, must be allowed to remain in office for the rest of his life.

“We will die for him to make sure he remains in power. We are prepared to stand by our commander-in-chief,” he said.