Harare minister warns of state shutdown


ZIMBABWE’S GOVERNMENT could shut down in the near future unless projected revenues from diamond sales begin to flow into the treasury, Zimbabwean finance minister Tendai Biti has said.

Mr Biti, a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) member, also warned that the funding shortfall meant the state had no money to pay for the election being sought this year by the party’s coalition partner, Zanu-PF.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have repeatedly insisted over the past 12 months that elections must be held in 2012 to end the powersharing arrangement, which has been in place since February 2009.

But Mr Biti told a press conference on Wednesday that his ministry only had enough cash to pay for a nationwide census in August and that a referendum on a new constitution should also be scheduled around this time.

“Diamonds have to deliver, otherwise the only thing we will be able to do is to pay wages, which means government will virtually close down,” Mr Biti said.

“That’s an unacceptable situation, that’s an unhealthy situation and that’s cause for concern because we are back again to days of a fragile state that cannot look after its citizens in terms of education, health, roads and clean water.”

Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields, which were discovered in 2006, are believed to have some of the biggest deposits of precious stones in the world. However, they have been steeped in controversy since the government took them over in 2008.

Mr Mugabe’s government of the time stands accused of killing hundreds of illegal miners during the operation to bring the fields under state control.

Harare’s mining ministry is controlled by Zanu-PF, and the former liberation movement has been accused of stealing vast sums of the diamond revenue.

Initially there was an international ban on the sale of diamonds from the Marange fields. But recently the Kimberley Process, an intergovernmental diamond certification scheme, gave the green light for a number of state-owned companies to sell their stones.

Mr Biti said the finance ministry had anticipated it would receive $77.5 million (€59 million) from diamond sales in the first two months of this year, but to date it had only received $19.5 million.