MPs blundered by ratifying US$98m loan for a spy centre

OPINION – Zimbabwe’s Members of Parliament blundered by ratifying the US$98m for a spy centre on Wednesday 1st June 2011.

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They should have known better that the country cannot afford the multi million dollar Chinese loan nor does Zimbabwe need a defence college before rubber-stamping Zanu-pf’s suspicious project. Although, the ratification was preceded by a ‘heated debate’, it is ironic that the MPs lost sight of an appeal on the same day by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for US$6 million to continue treating Zimbabwe’s water.

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It seems the MPs are not keeping their eyes on the ball because UNICEF has already given $40 million of support to water and sanitation programmes in Zimbabwe a vital necessity for everyone regardless of political affiliation, unlike the spy centre. One would have thought that Bill Gates’ advice to African countries to work harder to get life-saving vaccines to children in order to save millions of lives was heeded (AFP, 17/05/11). The founder of Microsoft and philanthropist Mr Gates puts his money where his mouth is.

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The Chinese loan is far from Zimbabwe’s national priorities, which we know to be food security, efficient electricity supply (or refurbishment of ZESA), road construction and maintenance, housing, railways, health and education which are all critical for the industrialisation of the country and employment creation. There are two key issues here: Do we need a foreign loan at this juncture? Secondly: Do we need a spy centre?

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Zimbabwe is least advised to take any loan at the moment because the country’s total domestic and foreign debt was US$7.1 billion as at March 31, 2011. At 105% of the Gross Domestic Product, it means every Zimbabwean owes US$500 million! It appears the country’s leaders momentarily forgot the advice given by the African Development Bank vice-president for operations, Aloysius Uche Ordu when he said:

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“Arrears clearance is so important because it’s the only way to re-engage the multilateral finance institutions” (AFP, Jan 18, 2010).

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MPs should be reminded that voters will be more likely to be influenced by day to day problems like ZESA blackouts and its excessive tariffs, unemployment, hunger, erratic water supplies, a potholed road network, sub-standard health and other essential services than the number of spies produced by the Chinese college. The MPs should have declined to ratify the loan agreement for the simple reason that the country cannot afford it.

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It’s very distressing to note that the loan will be repaid from proceeds to be brought in by Chinese mining firm Anjin Investments which is mining diamonds at Chiadzwa and would be repaid over 20 years at an interest rate of 2% per annum. You don’t have to be an economist to tell that such terms are unacceptable, at least for two reasons – mortgaging our diamonds for a non-essential like a spy college and the high interest rate due to Zimbabwe’s current poor credit worthiness. What happens if Anjin goes bust?

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Next: Do we need a defence college at the moment? Did the MPs benefit from an independent Value for Money audit let alone a Risk Assessment before endorsing the setting up of the spy centre? Do they know the full implications of a spy centre in the country?  Do the MPs fully know what is going to be done at/by the centre?

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Zanu-pf Defence Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa reportedly said the college will provide senior military officers with intellectual tools to address complex defence and national security challenges which in turn will contribute to national security. At least the MPs should have asked the Minister to explain how Zimbabwe has been meeting those needs since 1980 when it managed to fight in the Democratic Republic of Congo and before that against the Renamo in Mozambique.

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The spy centre is expected to produce Cryptologic Linguists, Signals Intelligence Analysts, Human Intelligence Collectors, Military Intelligence (MI) Systsms Maintaners and Integrators, Counterintelligence Agents, Imagery Analysts, Common Ground Station (CGS) Analysts, Intelligence Analysts, Signals Collectors or Analysts.  ‘All this expertise will be provided by the Chinese’(The Zimbabwean, 15/05/11).

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It is further claimed the college will offer a Bachellor of Science degree in Intelligence and Master of Science degree in Strategic Intelligence working closely with the University of Zimbabwe. The likelihood of non-Zanu-pf candidates being recruited on a non-partisan basis into these sensitive programmes ranges from slim to zero.

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Based on Mugabe’s reluctance to reform the security sector, this may be another Zanu-pf top secret project with help from the Chinese since radio jamming. In my view, the MPs will soon rather than later regret their big mistake. The spy college is likely to have short and medium-term implications for the economic revival in addition to the damage caused by the implementation of indigenisation laws – harshly, haphazardly and selectively.

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Notwithstanding the generous Chinese assistance during the struggle against colonialism, however, it appears Zimbabwe is undergoing colonisation by the Chinese with the way things are. For example for the next 20 years the Chinese will be guaranteed of jobs at Anjin diamond mine in Marange, thanks to that loan agreement. Furthermore, there are concerns that project’s sensitivity might impact on the conduct of the forthcoming referendum and 2011 elections in the wake of the ongoing militarization of the state.

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Another factor arising from globalisation is the discovery of a vast Chinese cyber-espionage network codenamed GhostNet which is designed to infiltrate sensitive ministries and embassies and has allegedly penetrated 103 countries and infects at least a dozen new computers every week, according to UK’s Daily Telegraph on 29 March 2009. However, the paper says, it remains unclear whether GhostNet was built by the Chinese government, or by independent hackers inside the country. Hopefully there will be no regrets.

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©Clifford Clifford Mashiri, Political Analyst, London, zimanalysis2009@gmail.com