Biti resists plan to set aside referendum, election funds

Finance Minister Tendai Biti is resisting President Robert Mugabe's demand to set aside $200-million in his forthcoming budget for the referendum on the new constitution and the elections next year.

Biti said in September he had been ordered to budget $200-million for the referendum and the anticipated elections.

He said this meant he had to make a special provision of $100-million for the referendum and another $100-million for fresh elections in his budget.

Parties in the inclusive government agreed they would hold fresh elections after the constitution-making process with or without a new constitution. Mugabe wants the referendum in February and elections in June.

However, Biti said setting aside $200-million in such an economy would be a "disaster purely from a fiscal policy point of view".

Biti met Mugabe and the Cabinet committee on financial and economic affairs on Wednesday to present principles of his budget but resisted the expectation to address the election issue in his budget.

Biti was expected to address the issue because he presents his budget to parliament on November 25.

However, those who addressed the meeting said he did not raise the issue.

"There was not a single reference to the issue. The minister did not say anything and no one raised it," said a senior government minister who attended the meeting.

"This means no request for funds for elections was made by relevant ministries in their budget votes."

Biti recently said he would not budget for elections unless a request was made to him officially.

This was despite the fact Mugabe had in September told him to budget for elections.

The minister has a constitutional obligation to make financial provision for elections if officially requested to do so.

Another minister said it was clear during the Wednesday meeting Biti was determined to ignore Mugabe’s verbal request for funds to finance next year’s elections.

"Biti was not interested in the issue. You could see he was waiting to see who would raise it so he could deal with the issue at that point," the minister said.

The Cabinet committee on financial and economic affairs is chaired by Mugabe.

It includes vice-presidents Joyce Mujuru and John Nkomo, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, deputy prime ministers Thokozani Khuphe and Arthur Mutambara and many other ministers.