Zimbabwe 'needs $45bln' for economy

HARARE — Zimbabwe needs 45 billion dollars to return its economy to peak levels seen more than a decade ago, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Wednesday.

But he warned that doubts over the future of the strained unity government were hampering the still fragile economic recovery.

"About 45 billion dollars is required to get the country back to its peak level of 1996-97," Biti told reporters at the launch of a three-year economic blueprint.

Zimbabwe’s economy has contracted every year since 1997, but is expected to grow 4.7 percent this year, after the local currency was abandoned in January and the unity government took office the following month.

President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since independence in 1980, was forced into the power-sharing arrangement with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai following disputed elections last year.

The deal, known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA), remains shaky due to a raft of disputes over key jobs and claims that Tsvangirai’s supporters remain the target of official persecution.

"The uncertainty of the Global Political Agreement is affecting the performance of the economy," said Biti, a top aide to Tsvangirai.

"If it was not for the uncertainty of the GPA, we would easily achieve growth rates of 11-15 percent over the next three years."

The economy is currently forecast to grow by seven percent next year to 5.6 billion dollars, with inflation seen at 5.1 percent.

That compares to inflation estimated last year in multiples of billions.

Zimbabwe needed to conduct a land audit, he said, after Mugabe’s violent land reforms forced white farmers off their land over the last decade, resettling the properties with blacks who received no official title deeds.

After the land reforms, the agriculture-based economy was decimated and Zimbabwe became dependent on international food aid.

"Security of tenure and production is important for our agriculture, and production is still limping because of the political instability which is affecting performance of the economy," Biti said.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have made progress this week, naming commissions to oversee reforms in media, elections and human rights, meeting a key requirement of the power-sharing deal.

They were set to meet later Wednesday on the hotly disputed posts of attorney general and central bank governor.