Zimbabwe finance minister to focus on stability

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday appointed Tendai Biti to be finance minister in a unity government and said he would focus on creating economic stability and attracting foreign investment.

Biti, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party’s secretary general, will be charged with rebuilding Zimbabwe’s ruined economy and winning the confidence of Western donors.

“This [finance] ministry’s mandate is to create a stable economic environment for all Zimbabweans ... and to establish Zimbabwe as a strong investment centre,” Tsvangirai told a news conference shortly after appointing Biti as finance minister.

Tsvangirai, who agreed to form a coalition with President Robert Mugabe last week after months of wrangling, will be sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday under a power-sharing deal designed to end Zimbabwe’s political crisis and revive an economy in a state of collapse.

The joint Cabinet will be sworn in on Friday.

Analysts believe Mugabe and Tsvangirai, two old foes faced with the prospect of working together, will appoint political allies rather than technocrats and economists who might have better qualifications for rebuilding the ruined country.

Appointing Biti, a lawyer and founding MDC member who fiercely opposed compromise with Mugabe, to the finance ministry could reinforce that view.

It also raises the risk of confrontation between him and Central Bank Governor Gideon Gono, a Mugabe ally.

“I hope that by the time the other ministries are allocated, I as PM being responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies, will have to define their mandates. We hope we can then begin the hard work ahead of us,” said Tsvangirai.

Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa and one of the continent’s most promising economies but hyperinflation means prices now double every day, unemployment is over 90% and the currency is almost worthless.

Tendai helped found the MDC in 1999.
He was elected to Parliament for the Harare East constituency in 2000. During the Fifth Parliament he served as a member of the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture, Water Development, Rural Resources and Resettlement and that on Defence and Home Affairs.

Biti led Tsvangirai’s negotiating team in the power-sharing talks mediated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki and is regarded as a hawk who fiercely opposed compromise with Mugabe.

Biti is a senior partner at a Harare law firm which focuses on human rights, labour and constitutional law and has been a driving force in civic groups which have confronted Mugabe’s government over the Zimbabwe crisis.

A magistrate’s court last week dropped a treason charge against Biti arising from the MDC’s claims that Tsvangirai had won outright the first presidential poll against Mugabe last March. He denied the charge. - Reuters

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