Zimbabwe: Biti's Blizzard of Lies Outed

Fungi Kwaramba — Political Editor

With neither shame nor scruples, Tendai Biti has once again exhibited his penchant for grandiose premised on verbosity -- low on fact and high on nostalgia -- as he sought to cast aspersions at the Second Republic's progress in the fight against corruption.

Like a teaser Chihuahua, Biti ranted and raved in the process, spewing out half a dozen falsehoods and misleading statements in the true fashion of Trumpism, an-ism where facts are rejected to advance parochial party interests at the expense of the common good.

Fancying himself a Finance Minister, Biti brazenly sold bottled smoke to his listeners, in a speech devoid of facts, but brimming with such propaganda that would make Nazi chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels green with envy.

He could have carried the day in the narrow worldview of his gullible listeners had it not been for ZimFact, an online news organisation that separates facts from lies, that outed his blizzard of falsehoods.

Facts are, indeed, stubborn, yeah stubborner than him and the bunch of naysayers who pretend to be blind to the Second Republic's success story under President Mnangagwa since November 2017.

Nonetheless, it is in their nature for lies to have short legs, in fact being made of wax, the stumps cannot withstand the searing heat -- they melt under analytical blaze.

A protégé in the school of Trumpism, Biti has mastered the art of deceit, for false narratives are his forte as he nostalgically relives his heydays as a Finance Minister. A lawyer by profession, he briefly served as the country's Minister of Finance during the Government of National Unity (GNU) between 2009 and 2013.

In his usual boisterous-self, Biti sought to portray Zimbabwe as a country that is mired in corruption, but his speech was pivoted on lies, according to ZimFact.

Biti, who has a fascination for big words and a proclivity to throw huge numbers, claimed with a straight face that the country lost US$14 billion through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.

However, microscopic lenses established that it was yet another high sounding nothing from the verbose and garrulous politician.

Thundered Biti: "We know from the audited statements of the Auditor-General that US$2,7 billion was stolen and lost directly through Treasury in 2017; US$3,5 billion was lost directly through Treasury in 2018; and the recently released audit report of 2019 shows a loss of US$7,6 billion lost through Treasury.

"So, in three years, over and above the budget deficit, around US$14 billion has been lost through the Ministry of Finance."

It is a fact that the Auditor-General did not make a finding that these funds were stolen.

Even Biti, wearing his cap as the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), did not make that sensational claim.

It may be that he feared to ride on the crest of falsehoods in the august House, but on social media he felt no such compulsion.

According to ZimFact, Biti was on the wrong side of the truth, for want of euphemism.

"For 2018, the Auditor-General similarly found that the Government, through the Finance ministry, had overspent by US$3,2 billion.

"The Auditor-General said the excess expenditure 'was mainly related to unallocated reserves transferred to Ministries by the Treasury.

"Unlike the 2017 accounts, the 2018 unallocated reserve distribution figures provided by Treasury and Government departments largely matched.

"Again, while her report flagged risks associated with excess expenditure, the Auditor-General did not make a finding that the US$3,2 billion had been lost or stolen. The latest Auditor-General's report, for 2019, also flagged excess expenditure, which also arose from unallocated reserves distributed to ministries," reads the ZimFact report.

"Zimbabwe officially reintroduced its local currency in February 2019 and its budget for that year has been restated in Zimbabwean dollars. The unallocated reserves for that year, $7,4 billion, were stated in local currency, not United States dollars," the report adds.

And the punchline: "There is, therefore, no evidence in the Auditor-General's reports cited by Biti, of US$14 billion, equivalent to 67 percent of the country's GDP, having been 'stolen and lost' through the finance ministry between 2017 and 2019."

Further exaggerating the levels of poverty in Zimbabwe, Biti claimed that the majority of citizens --79 percent -- is living at the lowest margins of human existence.

However, the bumper harvests this year, courtesy of a good rainy season and the Government's interventions, smack in the face of such blatant lies.

Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the MDC's preferred masters, admitted that the country's economy is on the rebound; hence, jolting Biti from his reverie of a country in tatters.

Undeterred, he went even further, claiming without any aorta of shame that the country's infant mortality rates are now at 102 out of a thousand.

However, ZimFact caught him offside again as it showed that according to latest available UNICEF data, Zimbabwe's infant mortality rate was 38,4 deaths for every 1 000 live births; the lowest it has been since 1970.

Over the years, the MDC has repeatedly claimed, Goebbels' style, that, "There is no economy that has involuntarily dollarised, that has been able to de-dollarise."

Again, that is incorrect.

A 2015 IMF report on sub-Saharan Africa economies, lists 11 countries which successfully de-dollarised between 2001 and 2012.

"While many countries have attempted to de-dollarise, only a few have succeeded in these efforts. Among them, Israel, Poland, Bolivia, and Peru provide a good illustration of the comprehensive policy package needed to reduce financial dollarisation," the IMF staff team reported.

"Out of 194 countries for which data are available, 42 were initially dollarised (of which nine in sub-Saharan Africa); out of these, 11 countries were successful and de-dollarised; and the remaining 31 countries were unsuccessful and remained dollarised."

Relishing his short stint as the Minister of Finance in the GNU, Biti claimed that during his time civil servants earned an average of US$500, and now earn between US$35 and US$40.

Nevertheless, information compiled by the International Labour Organisation from the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC), the platform for Government workers' wage negotiations, shows that at the end of the GNU (mid-2013), the lowest paid civil servant was getting a monthly salary of US$296; made up of US$159 basic pay, US$63 transport allowance and US$74 housing allowance.

The lowest paid teacher was earning a basic salary of US$230, plus US$189 housing and transport allowances, amounting to a total package of US$419.

Teachers make up the bulk of the civil service.

In fact, civil servants earned more when the MDC was out of Government, as a pay increase in 2014 saw the least paid civil servant getting a total package of US$375, while entry-level teachers were now on US$500.

Fast forward to today, the least paid civil servant is earning $16 752 (US$195 at the official exchange rate or US$124 on the black market), with the highest band getting $33 647 (US$391 at the official rate).

As history has taught us, if one "repeats a lie often enough it becomes the truth", itself a law of propaganda attributed to Goebbels, and which psychologists say has an "illusion of truth" effect.

Perhaps that is the goal of the opposition after all.

But as President Mnangagwa succinctly said, "A glowing light can never be hidden under a table; it shall eventually shine forth. Unfortunately, there are those lone voices and perennially pessimistic individuals who always wish gloom and doom on our economy and country.

"These personalities must be ignored with the hope that one day, they too will see the light, acknowledge the truth and speak well over their mother country".

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