The Herald (Harare)

9 April 2013

Zimbabwe: Biti's Bid to Scuttle Grain Deal Sparks Outrage

FINANCE Minister Tendai Biti has come under fire for attempting to scuttle Government plans to import 150 000 tonnes of maize from Zambia to feed poor people facing starvation as part of the MDC-T's grand plan to instigate food shortages and price increases ahead of polls.

Zambia wants to sell the maize under a Government-to-Government arrangement, but Minister Biti wants to involve private companies, a development that observers say could be manipulated by pro-MDC-T groups to trigger food shortages and price increases ahead of the harmonised elections expected before June 29.

Observers also said Minister Biti's decision to increase import levy for petrol from US$0.30 to US$0.35 and US$0.20 to US$0.25 for diesel per litre, ostensibly to raise money for elections, was part of MDC-T's scheme to worsen the people's socio-economic condition ahead of elections.

The increase in the price of fuel has spawned increases in commuter fares and prices of basic commodities.

From inception, MDC-T has staked its political fortunes on the people's misery in the hope of cultivating protest votes which was the reason the party's leadership campaigned for economic sanctions which, in the words of former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs Chester Crocker, were designed to separate Zimbabweans from President Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

Appearing before a Congressional hearing on the US sanctions law, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in September 2001, Chester Crocker said: "To separate the Zimbabwean people from Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF we are going to have to make their economy scream, and I hope you senators have the stomach for what you have to do."

And the economy screamed in 2008 when empty shelves greeted shoppers and the electorate visited the polling booths on empty stomachs to deliver a protest vote that ushered in a hung Parliament that brought MDC-T into Government.

Analysts say the prevailing socio-economic stability and surveys pointing to a Zanu-PF victory in harmonised elections had unnerved MDC-T which was now trying to create conditions for protest votes.

President Mugabe revealed the Minister Biti's nefarious plan to scuttle the Zambian maize deal while addressing traditional leaders and members of the Gushungo clan at Banket Country Club in Zvimba at the weekend.

He said the minister sought to side-step the conditions set by the Zambian Government that the maize would only be sold to the Government, not private firms.

Observers argued that the Finance Minister appeared to have failed to grasp the fundamental role of Government, that of securing affordable food for the most vulnerable people.

Political and social commentator Dr Charity Manyeruke said: "It's very clear that Minister Biti does not understand Government business. The basic mandate of Government is to take care of the people by providing subsidies and procuring cheap products for the people.

"What is happening is that because of the forthcoming polls, the MDC-T is declaring its interests. Allowing the private sector to import food for the country will not benefit the people. The private sector that has been working with the MDC-T will take advantage of the situation to fuel food shortages and leave the people worse off than before."

Dr Manyeruke said it was unfortunate that MDC-T was bent on supporting private companies and non governmental organisations, some of which have been profiteering.

She said MDC-T's actions meant that the party was not concerned with promoting self-sufficiency and food security, hence the Finance Minister's reluctance to support the agriculture sector.

"Minister Biti must know that the people in urban centres are no longer fools and they know who is responsible for the problems they are facing. The civil servants have suffered under Biti, fuel is increasing under Biti... he wants the urban dwellers to suffer so that they do not vote for Zanu-PF. However, the people are taking this as cheap politics," she said.

National University of Science and Technology academic Dr Lawton Hikwa, said leaving the role of importing food to the private sector was tantamount to the Government abdicating its responsibility of providing the people with safety nets.

He said there were many communities countrywide facing a food deficit and leaving food procurement to the private sector was disastrous.

"It must be Government that imports food given the dire and serious need for food in some parts of the country. I wonder why preference was supposed to be given to the private sector yet it's the Government which must import food. If the private sector is to be involved, it raises suspicion...It will be political engagement.

"A government-to-government arrangement is more credible than a government-to-private sector arrangement. There must be recognition that Government is for everyone and it can easily make use of Grain Marketing Board networks to distribute food and other networks will be suspicious," he said.

Commenting on efforts to raise money for polls through fuel levy, Dr Hikwa said the intentions were noble yet the commodity identified was a wrong one.

Another political analyst Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa, said the MDC-T was a hardship party and its policies were meant to induce suffering among Zimbabweans.

He said the attempt to involve private companies in a deal that was being negotiated at Head of State and Government level was meant to rope in some NGOs in the supply chain.

"Why is it that the NGOs and the private sector did not negotiate their own deal with the suppliers? They want to privatise everything so that the NGOs buy the food from the private sector, who in turn will use it to mobilise support for the MDC-T so that it gains political mileage," he said.

History has shown that the NGOs sideline Government structures and import the food they distribute on partisan lines to mainly MDC-T supporters.

Ambassador Mutsvangwa said it was unfortunate that a country that was the best tobacco producer in the world was importing food because the Finance Ministry failed to support cereal farmers.

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