Zanu-PF MPs face the failing state
Parliamentary committees are doing something Zimbabwean officials rarely do – criticising the government and telling the truth.
When Parliament was sworn in last year, there were fears that Zanu-PF would abuse its domination of the House of Assembly and stifle debate, and that parliamentary committee reports would cover up inefficiencies.
But the committees have been candid in pointing out the government's failures and criticising the increasing corruption in state agencies.
Zanu-PF's victory last year handed it a more than two-thirds majority in Parliament, enough to enable it to change the Constitution.
Hence there were fears that it would railroad its wishes, with its parliamentarians succumbing to the party whip and abandoning their oversight role.
But, so far, a different story has been emerging. A recent report by the parliamentary committee on budget, finance and economic development, chaired by Zanu-PF lawmaker David Chapfika, described the gloomy economic environment frankly – rising unemployment, low investment, worsening liquidity, negative current account balance and high levels of corruption.
Govt to take over the Reserve Bank's debt
The committee also asked the authorities to be transparent about the proposal to assume the debts of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which could impose a huge burden on taxpayers.
During the budget statement in December, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced that the government would take over the Reserve Bank's debt in an effort to stabilise it.
Members of the committee said Chinamasa must make detailed information about the specific creditors for the $1.35-billion debt public to ensure that there is transparency and accountability.
Regarding the collapse of locally owned banks, the committee said it was concerned that this was putting innocent depositors at risk. The committee recommended that those responsible for the collapses be prosecuted. But there is a grey area.
A part of the report said that the locally owned banks were receiving the same treatment as international banks and this should not be the case.
"There is need for government to assist indigenous banks, which are currently receiving the same treatment as big banks, so that we do not continue to witness the reversal of the indigenisation policy in the banking sector," the report said.
Protecting the local industry
Regarding manufacturing, the committee was frank about encouraging controlled interventions to protect the local industry, including the reduction of excise duty on key raw materials for particular industries and increases in customs duty on some finished imported goods.
But it also warned that proposed protective measures must be clear about implementation timelines to ensure that consumers are not compromised by the inability of local manufacturers, which could be too slow to take advantage of the concessions.
For greater transparency and accountability in the diamond industry, the committee proposed that all diamond mining companies must be compelled to publish their financial statements half-yearly, just as banks are obliged to do.
Since Zimbabwe discovered huge reserves of diamonds, the army and the government have been mining them in partnership with Chinese and other companies and there has been no transparency about remittances to the treasury.
Analysts have said that the proceeds are being used to fund Zanu-PF.
The committee urged the government not just to push for the establishment of refineries for platinum but also to put an equal emphasis on increasing the production of power to cope with the new smelters and refinery it is demanding that mining companies build.
Miners given an ultimatum
The government has given platinum miners an ultimatum to build a refinery in Zimbabwe and not export the platinum to South Africa if they wish to keep mining in Zimbabwe.
The committee report also said that, although it was a noble idea that all mining claims not explored in three years from date of issue be forfeited to the state, it was not practical or desirable for all claims to be worked on at once, and it discouraged long-term investment in mining.
The report also urged the mines ministry to review mining fees and pitch them at realistic levels. The committee also took a swipe at the parastatals.
It said that, to some extent, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was to blame for the "continuous decline in maize production countrywide", because of its unjust treatment of farmers who delivered their maize to the board but were not paid for months.
"Unless proper and just interventions are made in the marketing of maize through the GMB, maize imports will continue to be an unnecessary drain on the fiscus," it said.
The National Social Security Authority, another parastatal, also came under fire. MPs said it continued to misuse the monthly contributions of workers.