FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube is at loggerheads with his cabinet colleagues over his decision to nudge the government into joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (Eiti), an international organisation, which champions transparency and accountability in the mining sector.
In his 2020 budget presentation in the National Assembly in November last year, Ncube indicated that he would allocate resources to ensure that Zimbabwe joins the Eiti -- widely considered a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources -- at the annual Mining Indaba which will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, next week.
Eiti, whose establishment was overseen by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2003, seeks to address key governance issues in the extractive sectors.
Hardliners in government, however, believe the initiative is not good, as it was being pushed by Western countries.
Ncube was of the belief that joining the initiative would help improve transparency and accountability in the mining sector."With the increasing call for transparency and accountability in the sector, discussions are underway with various stakeholders on joining the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (Eiti), which will be pursued during 2020," Ncube said while presenting the budget proposal.
Senior government officials, however, revealed that cabinet had shot down the suggestion. The issue was discussed in several cabinet meetings since the budget presentations.
Some ministers argued the initiative would be used as a spying tool by powerful Western nations.A senior government official told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that ministers became particularly sceptical after Eiti chairperson, the former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, visited Zimbabwe in October last year and embarked on an extensive two-week-long advocacy spree for the adoption of the initiative.
She met with senior government officials, including Vice-President Kembo Mohadi and Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, before her team went on to engage several civil society organisations which are not trusted by government.
"Ministers became worried by the fact that this is a Western initiative being thrust upon us and cabinet felt it was necessary to have a closer look at it since it is coming from people who have imposed sanctions on us," an official said.
"She (Clark) came here in October last year and spent two weeks lobbying us to join the initiative. She is very eloquent. She even took some officials to South Island in New Zealand and hammered the same points so eloquently. They are saying it will help open up investment especially now that we are on sanctions. In addition to that, they argue that it would also allow for close monitoring of our economic reforms as part of the re-engagement agenda. The idea was that Zimbabwe should join the initiative before or during the Mining Indaba in South Africa next week.
"But when Ncube brought it up in cabinet for adoption, everyone said no, let's carefully analyse it to see what sort of creature it is and that's when it collapsed. Our position for now is this thing requires a thorough analysis to evaluate where it came from, what it means and why it is being pushed on us.
We don't want to be part of another KP (Kimberly Process). They use UN clichés for their programmes but we know that those programmes are controlled and manipulated by the Western powers for specific long-term objectives which we may not know now but need to nevertheless guard against."
The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) is a platform which unites civil society, the mining sector and governments in reducing the flow of conflict diamonds around the world and has courted controversy in the global South for favouring rich Western countries at the expense of poorer and less powerful nations.
"Our position now is that they must remove sanctions on the country now if we are to adopt it. Their economies are hinged on the manufacturing sector and no one has even gone there to say we need transparency in the manufacturing sector. But now they want to monitor our economies. We think that they are targeting deals we are signing with the Chinese. We have a lot of rare earth minerals which they don't have. They are trying to explore the moon and other planets to see if they (minerals) exist there too but we have them here and we can only imagine that they have firmly set their eyes on our resources," the official said.
This is not the first time that Ncube --who could not be reached for comment as he did not answer calls to his mobile phone throughout the week -- has crossed paths with powerful Zanu PF and government officials.
His austerity measures, as espoused in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, are widely blamed for the deteriorating economy by Zanu PF hardliners.
Last year, Ncube came under heavy criticism from party and government officials who accused him of being used by external forces to destabilise and discredit government programmes when the austerity measures began biting.
The tide subsided after Ncube got strong backing from President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who fished the economics professor from Europe where he was running a consultancy firm, and deployed him as a technocrat with solutions to fix the ailing economy.
But since being appointed to cabinet, Ncube has been tip-toeing his way around political landmines, after introducing sweeping policy changes which have failed to rescue the economy.