/ 1 February 2013

Zim votes: Biti seeks donors for elections

Zim Votes: Biti Seeks Donors For Elections

Finance Minister Tendai Biti told the Mail & Guardian that he has already called on potential donors for funding.

He said it was "too much" for any government to fund a census, a referendum and elections within a short period of time. Zimbabwe held its population census late last year at a reported cost of $35million.

"Yes, we have already made a call to SADC [the Southern African Development Community] and the international community. We have said the money should be channelled through the government of Zimbabwe to avoid the perception that donors want to influence certain organs, to influence the elections," said Biti.

He added that he had been given the mandate by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai "to look for money anywhere, everywhere" to conduct both the constitutional referendum and the national elections.

A report by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a group of civil society organisations, indicated that Biti also told its team that he had been tasked by the principals of the unity government to ask international donors to fund the polls.

"I got a written response from the principals to look for money for the referendum and elections from donors. I have not yet made a formal request, but there are agencies which have shown interest," the report quoted Biti as saying.

Biti said a written request to scout for funding had come through Tsvangirai, who recently held meetings with Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) officials.

Tsvangirai's request was copied to the minister of justice and legal affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, under whose ministry the ZEC falls.

When asked about funding of the referendum and elections, Chinamasa told the M&G: "To my knowledge, it [funding] is not available, but check with the ZEC directly."

The ZEC has said that the planned referendum on a new Constitution will cost about $85-million.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director McDonald Lewanika said he hoped Biti's initiative will be "fruitful" because there are processes the electoral commission has to institute early that are "critical to the credibility of the election and referendum".

In December, Biti told the government principals that the treasury had no money to give the ZEC, after Tsvangirai demanded that the finance ministry provide the body with funding.

Civil society sources say several of their donor members are interested in financing both the referendum and the harmonised elections – but only on condition they are assured of a free and fair poll and that all funds are channelled through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Acting ZEC chairperson Joyce Kazembe has indicated that the electoral body is behind schedule in its preparations for the elections because of cash-flow problems.

She said the ZEC has presented a budget to the UNDP, which has previously given the commission technical and financial assistance, asking for $20million to link all electoral centres digitally for the electronic distribution of poll results.

The constitutional referendum is expected to be held in late March or early April after the major parties recently agreed on a raft of changes to the draft document.