SW Radio Africa (London)

8 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Why Biti Was Criticized for 'Zimbabwe Is Broke' Statement

Last week Finance Minister Tendai Biti got into trouble for saying there was only US$217 in Zimbabwe's coffers. Many observers questioned why there was so much criticism of the statement, when ZANU PF has also been saying the government is broke.

The reason was revealed on Thursday, when Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said Biti's statements almost ruined Zimbabwe's chances of hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly this year.

The state controlled media had described his 'reckless' comments as a serious 'breach of confidentiality', which exposed the nation.

The backlash resulted in Biti making a u-turn blaming 'mischievous and malicious' journalists who 'quoted him out of context' when he was merely trying to dramatise the point that government doesn't have funds to finance the forthcoming referendum and elections.

Mzembi, who was in Spain last week for meetings with co-host Zambia and UNWTO officials, told reporters after a feedback meeting with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, that Biti's statements caused 'anxiety' and 'despondency' at the meeting.

"The Minister (Biti) announced that the country was reeling on the brink of bankruptcy with only US$217 in the account and the UNWTO team sought to understand how we could host a general assembly with just $217 in the account," the minister said.

Critics say it would appear that ZANU PF is on a publicity and credibility blitz, trying to draw international events into the country, after years of isolation, and that is why 'they panicked' when Biti disclosed the country's balance, even though he may have been joking about the exact amount.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, Pedzisai Ruhanya, told SW Radio Africa that ZANU PF wants to use the tourism symposium to 'cleanse its bad image and to give an impression that there is law and order as Zimbabwe prepares for crucial elections.

Mzembi said he advised the United Nations officials to dismiss Biti's statement as it could have been taken out of context. He said: "I can't stand in his defence but I was just highlighting that going forward we should restrain ourselves on pronouncing issues that may cause despondency with other parties who are looking very keenly on us as a destination especially with regards to the hosting of the general assembly."

Mzembi said that he had the director for budgets from the Ministry of Finance in his delegation, who helped to put Zimbabwe 'back on track' with the UN after he confirmed "independently as to the veracity of the false nature of the statement that had been issued by the minister."

He said such negativity causes despondency as to whether Zimbabwe will be able to co-host the global event with Zambia in August.

However Ruhanya pointed out that ZANU PF wants to hide the facts that everybody knows - the country is bankrupt and is failing to pay its own workers in the civil service. He said Biti's basic message was that the government is broke.

"I have a letter that was co-signed by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice, Mr. Chinamasa, in which they are asking the UNDP local representative to give them $250 million for the purposes of administering the election and the referendum."We are even sub-contracting our sovereignty, so I don't understand the panic!"

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is also set to host several other international events this year, including the International Conference on Information Technology for Africa this month and the 19th session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in March.

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