21 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Referendum Hits Snag

Photo: IRIN
Hope in Harare.

A referendum expected in three weeks could plunge into a crisis amid indications funding for the poll might take longer to mobilise from both local and international donors, The Financial Gazette can exclusively reveal.

It also emerged this week that the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a consistent critic of the political parties-led constitution drafting exercise, was forging ahead with its High Court application to extend voter awareness campaigns by another month.

NCA lawyers, on the one hand, were due to lodge an urgent High Court application late on Tuesday seeking to defer the referendum. On the other hand, Welshman Ncube's formation of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claimed it had not been consulted with regards to the March 16 referendum date, further exposing fissures within the coalition government ahead of polls.

Last Friday, President Robert Mugabe gazetted March 16 as the referendum date without a fireproof funding strategy. He and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said that money would be sourced from the private sector.

But critics say it was common knowledge that all was not well for most businesses in the country, with capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector having dropped to 44,9 percent from 57 percent in 2011.

There are also concerns within the country's civil society organisations that there is little time left for voter education ahead of the referendum.

Indications this week were that it would be impossible for the international community to avail US$100 million needed for the referendum as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicated on Tuesday it would first need to dispatch a mission to Harare to assess the country's financial needs for the referendum as well as the general elections.

The coalition government has indicated it would need about US$250 million for both processes. It only made a provision of US$25 million in its national budget for the current year.

Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, was not immediately available to clarify exactly how the principals intended bankrolling the referendum in the event local companies and international donors failed to chip-in in time for the poll.

Asked if the inclusive government principals would consider postponing the referendum if funding does not come through on time, PM Tsvangirai's spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, said the dates would not be changed.

"I don't think there will be any postponement. The PM has said that the dates are not changing. They are looking for US$100 million for the referendum only and this has to be sourced at all costs," he said.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) yesterday refused to shed light on the ability of the sector to provide funding for the referendum. Kumbirai Katsande, the CZI president, said his organisation would leave it to individual members to decide on their own if they have money to lend to government.

"We have not yet been approached so I cannot comment on that. But it is a decision that companies will have to take on their own," said Katsande.

But economist, John Robertson, said it was very unlikely that companies would be able to help government with funding.

"It is very unlikely that anybody (the companies) would be able to have money to spare considering that most of the money in the banks is on call, meaning companies would want to use it in the near future . . . Also, savings in the corporate sector are very low. Most industries have not been doing very well since dollarisation and so the savings are not just there," said Robertson, adding that government has not indicated what interest rate would be applicable in the event that the private sector has the money to advance for the referendum.

Two weeks ago, the coalition government formally wrote to UNDP asking for funding but the United Nations agency is still to come up with a position on government's request.

Sources within the UNDP indicated that the multilateral agency will follow its normal bureaucratic procedures that might take "a bit of time".

The UNDP this week said the letter from government begging for financial assistance was forwarded to the UN Focal Point on Electoral Assistance at the UN headquarters charged with addressing such issues.

The UN Focal Point on Electoral Assistance responded to government's letter on February 11, explaining that a "needs assessment mission" would have to be sent to the country to assess how best support could be rendered.

After that, "resource mobilisation efforts would be guided by the outcome of the needs assessment," said a statement issued by the UNDP.

The UNDP is the one which was in charge of the funding basket that bankrolled the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) draft constitution.

If the UN agency advances money to Zimbabwe for the referendum, it is highly likely that the money would be coming from individual countries or donors who have to make pledges for the basket funding.

Nhlanhla Dube, the spokesperson for the Ncube-led MDC made startling revelations his party had been sidelined over the referendum date, in a clear sign there is no consensus in the coalition government over the issue.

Dube said: "Our party was not consulted; the decision came from President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai. We will not make a big deal about it, although we do have reservations about the date."

To add to the furore over funding the constitutional poll, the NCA chaired by constitutional law expert, Lovemore Madhuku is taking the government to the High Court seeking to have the date for the referendum moved by at least two months so that public awareness campaigns can be carried out.

NCA's lawyer, Andrew Makoni, confirmed to The Financial Gazette that he had already prepared papers to submit to the High Court

"Yes, we have prepared our case and are yet to file the papers with the court so right now I can't say much until I come back from the courts," said Makoni.

Madhuku had earlier warned that his organisation needed at least two months to prepare for the referendum, arguing that would be enough for awareness programmes, which he wants done by non-partisan actors.

He said if not granted his wish, the NCA lawyers would seek the intervention of the Supreme Court.

Madhuku said no political party or group of political parties must be allowed to give the country a constitution. He said the COPAC draft was not about what people wanted or said but about the selfish and personal interests of politicians.

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