16 April 2013

Zimbabwe: Treasury to Cut Poll Budget

TREASURY is set to further slash the harmonised elections budget from US$132 million to about US$100 million in a move likely to result in polling agents' allowances being cut by a huge margin.

This comes as Government barred the United Nations election assessment team from visiting Zimbabwe after it reportedly overstepped its mandate and sought to meet ministries and organisations that had nothing to do with election funding.

Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa yesterday confirmed that Government had blocked the team's visit because its terms of reference were unacceptable.

"As you are aware, we wrote a joint letter with Finance Minister Tendai Biti to the UN appealing for election assistance and we gave them our terms of reference and they wrote back giving us their terms of reference that had conditionalities which were not acceptable," he said.

"We again jointly wrote back to them that we did not accept the conditionalities and we told them that you can come to discuss our election budget and determine to what extent you are prepared to support the budget. They told us that they were on their way."

Minister Chinamasa said the team then sent a Note Verbale to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated April 9, indicating the list of the persons they wanted to meet.

"It was clear from the list that was now a broader mandate and they still wanted to come on the basis of their terms of reference and not what we had given them," he said.

"On April 10, I wrote to the UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator (Alain Noudehou) telling them to stop the mission that was on its way until a time we would have agreed on the terms of reference."

The elections are due before midnight on June 29 when the life of the Seventh Parliament lapses.

The initial budget had been pegged at US$254 million, but was reviewed downwards to US$132 million.

Briefing journalists on the state of the economy in Harare yesterday, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said allowances would gobble a huge chunk of the election budget.

He reiterated that Government did not have capacity to fund the elections, adding that the United Nations and other well-resourced regional countries were supposed to assist.

Minister Biti said together with his Justice and Legal Affairs counterpart Patrick Chinamasa, they wrote to the United Nations Development Programme requesting US$132 million.

"You can see from experience of the referendum that even the US$132 million there is a scope of rationalising it,.

"I think we have learnt a lot about how to run some of these things through the referendum and speaking for myself, I know that the big thing that we have to deal with are allowances.

"In any event, many of the equipment, the vehicles and the computers we acquired for the referendum are going to be used for the elections as well. I have absolutely no doubt that we will reduce this budget significantly without a doubt."

Minister Biti said he had since presented to the principals how much would be required for the elections, though he was not at liberty to disclose this.

He said he proposed a US$100 million budget to the principals.

He said they agreed with Minister Chinamasa on the terms of reference for the UN mission to visit Zimbabwe.

The team is expected to meet several Government officials, among them Ministers Chinamasa and Biti, Regional Integration and International Cooperation Minister Priscilla Misiharabwi- Mushonga, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga, Home Affairs co-Ministers Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the Registrar General's Office.

The mission will also meet Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

Minister Biti said they could not reach an agreement on whether the UN Mission should meet civic society members.

He said the issue had been referred to the principals for guidance.

Minister Biti said Government and the UN representatives here had agreed on the memorandum of intent, a memorandum of financial and economic policies and the technical memorandum of understanding.

Minister Biti said Treasury also requested South Africa, Angola and Sadc in general for financial support for the elections.

South Africa approved US$100 million budgetary support and was waiting for disbursement.

He said most of the money that was used to fund the referendum was from the Treasury Bills borrowed from the National Social Security Authority and Old Mutual who provided US$20 million each.

Minister Biti said Treasury would not borrow money from its Bills for the national elections because it had negative effects to the economy.

Minister Biti said the referendum cost about US$53 million adding that most of the money was gobbled by allowances for polling agents.

Meanwhile, Minister Biti said the anticipated low yields from the 2012-2013 agricultural season has left the country in desperate need of about 150 000 tonnes of maize up to the end of August.

He reiterated that Treasury would only disburse US$5 million to import 15 000 tonnes of maize from Zambia for about 100 000 vulnerable families while the private sector would import 150 000 tonnes from South Africa.

President Mugabe recently castigated Minister Biti for trying to sidestep conditions set out by Zambia that the 150 000 tonnes of maize from Zambia would only be sold to Government, not private companies.

However, Minister Biti said it would then be up to the Government to either buy from the private millers or to import on its own.

Minister Biti said the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development was in the process of issuing import licenses to private millers so that they can bring the maize.

He said most of the imported maize would be genetically modified which would require strict police monitoring to make sure the maize is not planted.

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