Desperate leaders dawdle over UN request
Zimbabwe's plea to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to bankroll the upcoming elections remains in limbo after two camps emerged in President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF on whether to follow up on the request or to abandon the polls entirely.
The way party sources tell it, the row also sucked in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, which by virtue of its control of the treasury has the official responsibility to make available the poll funds.
Last month, Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa co-wrote a letter to the UNDP representative in Zimbabwe, Alain Noudehou, and asked for $250-million to fund the election and referendum.
The UNDP said it would help to finance the polls, but only after several key requests were fulfilled by the unity government – chief among them allowing a UN electoral needs assessment team into the country.
Party sources say Zanu-PF hardliners are opposed to the UN request to bring in an international team because they are concerned that this would open up the government's activities to outside scrutiny, and that the UN team may pronounce the environment as unfit for a free and fair poll. The other camp, supported by Mugabe, is not against the assessment team coming to the country, but want to give the team its own terms for observations, insiders say.
Mugabe is also desperate, the source said, to legitimise the next election after the disputed 2008 elections that forced him into a unity government.
"The entry of the UN team will allow them to dictate the running of the elections and we don't want that. If we are banning the United States and European Union observers, why must an exception be made for the UN?" said the Zanu-PF official.
Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said that no international observers would be allowed to assess the situation because of sanctions imposed by the West on Zanu-PF officials and companies linked to the party.
Meanwhile, Tsvangirai has also drawn the ire of civil society groups for his perceived warming up to Zanu-PF and for failing to call for transparency ahead of the polls.
Earlier this week, Tsvangirai said some of the terms of reference that the UN provided "impinge on the sovereignty of the country and therefore new terms of reference have to be proposed to the UNDP".
"The focus is really to look at the technical support for the election, so the question of monitoring political activities and other issues will not be part of those terms," said Tsvangirai after a meeting with Mugabe.
Political tension has increased over the past few weeks, owing to a wave of intimidation, police crackdowns against non-governmental organisations, a ban on shortwave radios and the death of 12-year-old Christpowers Maisiri in an arson attack the MDC says was instigated by Zanu-PF supporters.
Biti, meanwhile, under tremendous pressure to raise funds for the elections, has been blunt about the financial challenges, and has set his sights on private companies in the financial services and telecommunications sector.
Ordinary taxpayers have also not been spared as Biti pushes for funds. "As far as elections are concerned, there is a real challenge. Things are excruciatingly tight. The support of the international community is critical … It has also been un-avoidable that the government will seek recourse from the ordinary tax payer," he said.
As part of measures to rally funding in the short term, Biti announced a hike in excise duty on diesel and petrol effective this month. The government has also issued treasury bills to Old Mutual and the National Social Security Authority – the state pension fund – which unlocked $40-million immediately.
The treasury has also cast its eye on the $180-million that will be paid by Econet Wireless Zimbabwe and Telecel Zimbabwe for the renewal of their operating licences in June as a possible source of income.
"The level of resources available from the renewal of the telecom licences is, therefore, being quantified. This should be leveraged in supporting some of the financial requirements of both the referendum and election programmes," said Biti.
Rise in fuel price irks unions
The cash-strapped government is facing a backlash after it arbitrarily increased the price of fuel as a way of raising money to fund a referendum this weekend and elections later this year.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti on Monday announced a rise in the excise duty for diesel from 20c to 25c a litre. Petrol was increased from 25c to 30c a litre with effect from March 9.
Economists say the increase will have a ripple effect on all sectors of the economy, with rises in food and transport costs expected soon. Worker representatives said workers in the public and private sectors were disturbed by the hikes. There is concern within trade unions that the latest increase would wipe out the 5.3% salary increase that was awarded to civil servants in January.
David Dzatsunga, the chairperson of the civil servants negotiating arm Apex Council, said it would be hard to mobilise industrial action at a time when public gatherings were being discouraging for political reasons.
"The landscape is treacherous. There is nowhere the politicians will allow us to mobilise. We are very unhappy with the increase and it calls for industrial action, but we will be prosecuted," he said.