The Herald (Harare)

1 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Biti Under Fire for Disclosing Balance

FINANCE Minister Tendai Biti has come under fire for disclosing the Government account balance amid calls for the principals to reprimand him.

Minister Biti on Tuesday told journalists that the Treasury account was left with US$217 after paying civil servants salaries about a fortnight ago.

The finance minister has since made a U-turn claiming that journalists had quoted him out of context.

He told the international media that he was only dramatising Zimbabwe's bankruptcy.

"You journalists are mischievous and malicious - the point I was making was that the Zimbabwean Government doesn't have the funds to finance the election, to finance the referendum," Biti told the BBC.

"To dramatise the point, I simply made a passing reference metaphorically that when we paid civil servants last week on Thursday, we were left with US$217, but the following day we had US$30 million in our account."

However, observers yesterday condemned Minister Biti for his utterances.

"I think it is wrong for a minister of Government who swore to secrecy and upholding the Constitution to be the source of information which undermines the State and exposes the nation," said Midlands State University Dean of Social Sciences Mr Christopher Gwatidzo.

"That disclosure creates alarm and despondency. There has been a serious breach of confidentiality even if it was the case which I dont believe anyway. Obviously one would think there is a sinister political agenda becaue he is a lawyer who knows he is deliberately breaching the law. He is someone who decided to deliberately enter the red robbot.

"I hope the leaders in Government will take action against such behaviour because this is gross irresponsibility. This is a case that warrants action from the Head of State and the Prime Minister."

Mr Gwatidzo said Minister Biti's disclosure justifies calls for the elections to get rid of the coalition Government.

University of Zimbabwe lecturer in the Department of International Relations Dr Charity Manyeruke weighed in saying Minister Biti had jumped the gun.

"Our Finance Minister has to understand the structures of Government and their purposes. Once he knows that he will be able to know there are committees where such interim disclosures can be made, for instance in internal meetings in the ministry, in Cabinet and Parliament.

"The leadership in Government should look at this case seriously and take appropriate action. The minister should understand that he took the oath. He cannot carelessly disclose information that is prejudicial to the State," said Dr Manyeruke.

Lawyer Mr Terrence Hussein of Ranchhod and Hussein law firm said Minister Biti's disclosure was morally wrong.

"I think legally, I wouldn't find anything faulty with him. However, i think it is morally and ethically wrong to go around brandishing such information. It is like a bank disclosing its figures carelessly which may reduce bankers' confidence in the bank. It is the same case with this disclosure. If one says that, they won't be helping the country in any way but are instead undermining it.

"I think it is important for Principals and Cabinet to set parameters for ministers to know which information to disclose. As damage control, there is need for leaders to verify the balance in the Government account for them to set the record straight," said Mr Hussein.

However, former Attorney General Mr Andrew Chigovera said there was nothing wrong with Minister Biti disclosing the figures.

"He is the Minister of Finance who knows what is in the account and if there are people doubting what he said they should prove him wrong. I don't understand why there is this hullabaloo.

"Unless people are saying he shouldn't have disclosed the figures to the public who have a right to know such information anyway," said Mr Chigovera.

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