ATTEMPTS by President Robert Mugabe to push for a March plebiscite with or without a new constitution appear to have gone off the rails after the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development this week trashed a declaration by the Ministry of Finance that polls would be funded through proceeds from diamond sales, The Financial Gazette can exclusively reveal.
The development comes as the country's main political parties - ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations - are yet to come up with dates for the conduct of their own primary polls to select candidates to represent them in the main elections - an indication that the March poll timeline could be dead in the water.
It is however, Finance Minister Tendai Biti's decision to tie poll and referendum funding, both estimated to cost nearly US$200 million, to diamond sales without first reaching consensus with his colleagues over the matter that has become the latest setback to the electoral process.
Biti has set aside only US$50 million in the 2013 National Budget for the elections, declaring that a further US$75 million required to augment the poll budget would come from diamond sales. According to Treasury, another US$55 million from the sale of the precious stones would be used to fund the constitutional referendum, the main benchmark towards the holding of fresh polls.
The 2012 National Budget was another disaster for Biti. The Minister of Finance had hoped to bankroll a number of projects and initiatives such as grants and loans for university students using a projected US$600 million windfall from diamond sales, but was forced to suspend them after the bulk of the money could not be realised.
This year, Biti took another gamble by pinning his hope on diamond revenue. He has also invited donors to foot part of the election bill despite opposition from ZANU-PF which is against benefactors interfering in the country's internal processes.
In a sign of a brewing crisis over the matter of poll funding, the Mines Ministry this week said it was not possible to fund elections from diamond sales. Mines and Mining Development Deputy Minister Gift Chimanikire, who ironically is from Biti's party, told The Financial Gazette this week that there was no agreement on the funding of polls through diamond funds.
He said companies operating in Chiadzwa were extracting the diamonds for profit and it would be difficult to compel them to fund polls. Chimanikire said not enough funds could possibly be realised from such a deal as government also operates a barter arrangement with firms mining in Chiadzwa relating to the construction of buildings.
"We have no such policy to fund elections. Any money that is coming (from diamond sales) is going towards payment of civil servants salaries," said Chimanikire.
Mines Minister, Obert Mpofu, could not comment on the matter saying he is currently on leave.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which is reeling from underfunding, could not immediately respond to questions sent to it.
Currently, voter registration which was supposed to start on Thursday last week has been shelved due to lack of funds, with Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa blaming Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai for failing to raise the funds, an allegation that the premier's office has since dismissed.
Unconfirmed reports this week said Biti has since released part of the funds for that voter registration exercise.
This week, Deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu said the PM would be meeting ZEC officials today to look at the way forward.
"The fact of the matter is that the PM is not responsible for funding ZEC. It is the duty of Treasury to fund ZEC. In spite of and despite the misleading and disparaging remarks of and concerning the PM that were attributed to the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, the PM is going to engage ZEC and all relevant stakeholders on Thursday, January 10, 2013 as plans to capacitate ZEC continue to gather momentum," said Gutu.
Apart from the funding issue other hurdles remain. The main one being the conclusion of the constitution-making process where parties are deadlocked on several issues.
ZANU-PF has threatened to proceed with a March poll without a new constitution, even though observers have noted that it is unlikely that the party can go against the Southern African Development Community, which guaranteed the Global Political Agreement.
South Africa, the facilitator of the local dialogue, along with SADC have also indicated that polls would only be held after the implementation of an agreed election roadmap that include such issues as media reforms.
In an interview yesterday, ZANU-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo admitted that his party was yet to come up with dates for primary polls despite the fact that President Mugabe wants elections in two months time.
"We have not come up with dates for primary elections. We will advise when that has been done," Gumbo said.
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said elections were process driven and one cannot talk of their holding before the constitutional referendum, adding that his party was still to decide on dates for primary polls.
Edwin Mushoriwa, the deputy president of the Welshman Ncube led MDC, said a March poll was out of consideration due to the need to resolve the constitutional question and funding issues.
"You will note that there has been an outcry from ZEC in terms of funding. We don't believe that we can have a credible poll by March, maybe later," said Musho-riwa.
Mushoriwa said ZEC has indicated that the current constituency boundaries would be maintained as there was no money for a delimitation exercise.
He said the need to have a delimitation exercise in the run-up to each election could become a thing of the past if the current draft passes as it proposes carrying it out once every 10 years after the population census.
Analysts have warned against a rushed poll saying it might plunge the country back into a political and economic crisis.