The Herald (Harare)

2 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Referendum a Needless Expense

editorial

Finance Minister Tendai Biti brewed a shocker this week when he sensationally claimed that the fiscus had only US$200, a statement that many naturally dismissed with the contempt it deserved for Zimbabwe is worth much more than the US$200 Minister Biti was harping about.

Be that as it may, the Minister was forced to quickly aver that this was the figure that remained after paying civil servants salaries adding that the next day, the fiscus had more than US$30million.

Despite the retraction, Minister Biti's sensational claims spread like veld fire in the Western media that feasts on anything that portrays Zimbabwe in bad light.

Be that as it may, Minister Biti's startling claim that came at a time talk about a referendum on the envisaged new constitution and subsequent elections has gathered momentum, igniting debate about the need for a referendum, given that the parties in Government agreed on the draft, and will urge their supporters to back it.

As we reported earlier this week, parties to the inclusive Government have agreed to campaign for a "yes" vote for the new Constitution in the referendum expected in March.

Since these parties commanded well over 97 percent of the vote in the last election, it is a foregone conclusion that the referendum will be a formality as the draft constitution will be endorsed if the three parties speak the same language as they are doing now.

It appears the logical thing is to forego the referendum and take the draft to Parliament, get the MPs to endorse it on behalf of their constituents as is done with Constitutional amendments, and go for elections without incurring unnecessary costs.

There is a precedent already as the parties have agreed to forego the delimitation of constituencies, a development that saw the poll budget being revised downwards from US$220million to US$192million

The same should be done with the referendum that is expected to gobble US$80million.

We do not see the need to blow US$80 million on what is set to be a mere rubber-stamping exercise.

More so since its money we will have to borrow and in so doing risk opening an intimately national process to possible external interference.

Looking at the timeframes, people are likely to be given less than five weeks from the publication of the Constitution to voting in the referendum, which is not adequate for the electorate to acquaint themselves with the contents of the draft.

More so, the constitution-making process itself has already been a huge drain on financial resources gobbling well over US$80million, a needless referendum will be akin to throwing more money down the drain.

To this end we back the calls to forego the referendum and save on both money and time.

We need to mobilise our own resources to bankroll the elections, that way we do not open the process to external interference.

At times we have to think outside the box.

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