The state media has been running a series of stories allegedly “exposing” how Biti has prevented the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the African Export and Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the PTA Bank from lending money to Zimbabwe.
In August the IMF extended a loan of US$510 million as part of the Bretton Woods Institution’s response to the global financial crisis and the Afreximbank and the PTA Bank promised a combined US$371 million in lines of credit.
Gono in a thinly veiled attack on Biti last week said the PTA Bank facility had been “taken off the table because we do not seem to be serious”.
The central bank chief has also publicly attacked his boss over the way he has handled the IMF funds, which has been described by Zanu PF loyalists as tantamount to “sabotage”.
But in an exclusive interview on Friday shortly after arrival from Turkey where he attended this year’s annual meetings of the World Bank Group, Biti said there is no way he could block the loans because he was “not the transacting customer”.
Even if he were to give the go-ahead, the money would still not be released as the process has to go through Parliament.
He said the accusations were being made by “political vultures masquerading as advisors”.
“If someone wants to be a Minister of Finance,” Biti said, “they have to go through the rigmarole of politics and learn to say slogans. A frustrated politician should not masquerade as a civil servant.”
He described the attacks as part of a “vuvuzela orchestra (that) is in full swing”.
A vuvuzela is a noisy instrument popularised by South African soccer fans.
Artistes in South Africa are now developing the instrument further to come up with an orchestra from the instrument.
“This business of blowing vuvuzelas of insanity should stop. But no matter how loud the noise becomes, a vuvuzela will never play the Mozart or Beethoven sound, and we will never dance to those decibels,” Biti said.
“Government is not run through newspapers. You do not use the Business Herald to exhibit your frustration. We do not take advice from newspapers. We run a serious ministry with a serious mandate.”
In what could add oil to the already burning fire, Biti warned that the continued leaking of information on the loans could land some RBZ officials in trouble with the law.
“Please do not break the Official Secrets Act by leaking sensitive state documents,” he warned.
Biti said those accusing him should not pretend like they “have a higher dosage of patriotism than everyone else”, or behave as if they “hold the sole monopoly of best interests of Zimbabwe”. He said negotiations were currently underway between the government and international finance institutions on the release of the funds that have been promised.
On the Afreximbank, he said they have a facility worth US$200 million, of which $100 million is already running.
The country owes Afreximbank $59million, which was incurred through oil for the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, a grain facility through the CBZ Bank and strategic imports.
The current approved facility with the PTA Bank stands at $171 million, of which $45 million is already running. The country owes the PTA Bank $55 million.
The RBZ has proposed that part of the special drawing rights (SDR) from IMF be used to settle these debts.
But Biti said this could only be done after a parliamentary process, which has not been initiated yet.
Once the necessary legal measures have been taken, the funds can be released.
“The law is very clear, if the government is taking over the debt of another corporate body, it just cannot do it unless a Debt Assumption Act is passed by Parliament.
“This is an elementary legal position which is so self-evident that it shocks me certain institutions don’t know about it.”
In an earlier address to the 15th Congress of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union (ZCFU), Biti pleaded for prayers saying the accusations against him were the work of evil forces.
“Kana mwana Grade Two chaiye akamboramba mari here? Imhepo chete dzakasimuka, ngatidzinamatirei. (Even a Grade Two pupil cannot refuse money. It’s just evil forces at play. Let us pray).”
During a public discussion on Friday evening, Biti said although he “knew from day one that I would swim in sewage”, he would not quit.
Biti’s full interview;
Over the last few weeks, Finance Minister Tendai Biti has been accused of stopping financial injections from the International Monetary Fund, the PTA Bank and the African Import and Export Bank (Afreximbank). The figures mentioned in the state media reports amount close to one billion US dollars.
The MDC lawmaker spoke to our Senior Staff Writer Vusumuzi Sifile to clarify the position on the funds, and his frosty relationship with RBZ governor Gideon Gono.
VS: It has been reported than you are stopping the release of hundreds of millions of US dollars from the IMF, Afreximbank and the PTA Bank. What is happening with the funds? Are there any prospects of them getting into the country’s coffers?
TB: There is nothing like that. Imhepo dzirikusimuka chete (Its just evil forces blowing). Zimbabwe has an excellent working relationship with the Afreximbank and the PTA Bank.
We have ongoing facilities with the institutions.
With the PTA Bank, the current approved facility stands at $171 million, of which $45 million is running.
With the Afreximbank, we have an approved facility of $200 million, of which $100m is running.
We owe the PTA $55million and the Afreximbank $59 million.
Of that, $19.9 million was for an oil facility through the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, $25 million is for a grain facility with the CBZ, while the rest went into strategic imports.
VS: The RBZ had suggested that part of the money from IMF be used to pay these debts. Why didn’t you pursue this option?
TB: All these loans were guaranteed by the RBZ. We have made it clear to the PTA Bank and Afreximbank that we will take over the current debts from the RBZ once the proper legal channel has been followed, which is to handle it through the medium of parliament.
But everyone knows that under our current parlous economic condition we cannot liquidate these amounts.
We only have one source of revenue, which is tax. The amounts owed represent more than two months in tax revenue. From January to June, we had a sharp increase in tax revenue, but now there is evidence of a reversal in that trend. This is evidence of the own goals we have been scoring.
Even if I wanted to refuse the money, I can’t because I am not the transacting customer.
The law is very clear, if the government is taking over the debt of another corporate body, it just cannot do it unless a Debt Assumption Act is passed by parliament. This is an elementary legal position, which is so self evident that it shocks me certain institutions don’t know about it.
VS: Has there been any engagement between your ministry and the RBZ over these issues? From the look of things, it seems most of your discussions are through the press. Does this mean your relationship has irretrievably broken down you can’t even sit on the same table and discuss these issues?
TB: As you know, I have been away on government business. I only came back today (Friday), and I have only seen the reports in the papers. There has been not been any engagement.
Government is not run through newspapers. You do not use the Business Herald to exhibit your frustration. We do not take advice from newspapers; we run a serious ministry with a serious mandate. Please do not break the law, the Official Secrets Act, by leaking sensitive state documents.
VS: What are you doing to close the rift between your office and the RBZ?
TB: The vuvuzela orchestra is in full swing. This business of blowing vuvuzelas of insanity should stop.
But no matter how loud the noise becomes, a vuvuzela (a noisy musical instrument popularised by South African soccer fans) will never play the Mozart or Beethoven sound, and we will never dance to those decibels.
If someone wants to be a Minister of Finance, they have to go through the rigmarole of politics and learn to say slogans. A frustrated politician should not masquerade as a civil servant. We have political vultures masquerading as advisors. Don’t pretend you hold the sole monopoly of best interests of Zimbabwe, you do not have a higher dosage of patriotism than everyone else.
VS: Is the money going to be released? If so, when?
TB: There is no way I can stop the release of those funds because I am not the transacting customer. The problem we have now is that we do not have a Debt Assumption law which allows treasury to take over debts created by corporate bodies. It is the role of Parliament to determine how the money is handled. That money has to be handled through the medium of Parliament.
VS: Your party, the MDC, is pushing for the resolution of outstanding issues of the GPA. Among them is the appointment of the RBZ governor. How has Gono’s continued stay in office affected your work as Minister of Finance?
TB: This does not affect my work at all. We know what our mandate is in terms of the law. We are a serious ministry. I have been consistent in my principles, and let history judge us.
VS: What is your response to reports that your party amended the constitution to allow Tsvangirai’s term to continue beyond 2011?
TB: There hasn’t been any new amendment to the party’s constitution.
The constitution was amended at our last congress in 2006.
The understanding was that when you are in a struggle, you do not concentrate on terms of office.
But in government, our position has always been very clear, the terms of office for the members of the executive have to be limited.