Biti’s moment in the sun / Coltart is what you get when we make BSAP men custodian of education and sport

The Herald
By Mabasa Sasa
28th November 2009

On December 2, 2009, Biti will present his first real budget as a Minister of Finance.

While he did stand up in Parliament and announce allocations earlier this year, one can’t really say he presented his own budget.

Chinamasa had done the hard bit and he simply worked with what was already there.

Secondly, the presentation he made then was to subsist for about eight months.

But on December 2 he will be blooded and announce his very own budget.

However, this very well could also turn out to be his last budget because, frankly speaking, an election is more or less likely next year and only God knows if he will still be in an office from which he can throw potshots at Gono.

The GPA has its timeframes and despite the country being behind schedule on a lot of issues, all indications are that our politicians will not hesitate to go back to the polls when the first opportunity presents itself.

This is why Tsvangirai can “disengage” his party when he pleases, while Zanu-PF carries on working and making Cabinet decisions such as instituting inputs subsidy schemes . . . but more of that later.

Back to the matter at hand — the 2010 national budget.

There is a real danger, and a damning irony, that Biti’s very presentation of the budget on the third of December will result in the collapse of the inclusive Government and conceivably result in him never making any national appropriations ever again.

Re-assigning power with budgets

Still waters run deep, we are told, and much has been happening these past few weeks despite the façade of budgetary preparations going along smoothly as in every other year.

A few weeks ago Tsvangirai and company “disengaged” and Zanu-PF took them back in like the patient husband married to the woman with a wandering eye.

In that time that MDC-T was in the lonely wilderness of “partially pulling out”, Biti was supposed to have been hard at work preparing a national budget. On his return he immediately started busying himself with things that should have long finalised.

Grain Bills were issued so late in the season, letters were sent to the IMF for the release of money he had never trusted anyone else to get within an inch of and Government departments were asked to lobby for budget votes.

Every department did as required. Every minister and permanent secretary knuckled down and made sure they presented their cases solidly — some more convincingly than others.

And Biti went through the documentation.

But somehow in all this some departments’ submissions disappeared, a case in point being the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity.

Everyone knows the contention around this portfolio, which Chamisa no doubt believes is more “key” to national development than — for instance — the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare.

Everyone also knows that all efforts to bottle that ministry inside MDC-T failed and Webster Shamu, who is very Zanu-PF, continues to run that brief.

Everyone also by now knows that Information has re-emerged on MDC-T’s radar as an “outstanding issue” in present inter-party political talks.

Is it any coincidence then that the Ministry of Information almost suddenly found itself cut out of the 2010 national budget?

Are we supposed to believe that budgetary vote submissions made by Shamu conveniently did not reach certain officers in the Ministry of Finance?

In essence, the omission — whether deliberate or just one of those many errors found in any bureaucratic machine — is tantamount to a single ministry deciding to dissolve another ministry.

If it was deliberate it means there are people in influential positions who are prepared to trigger an election at any moment by re-apportioning the division of Cabinet posts through the use of budgetary allocations.

Where has the money gone?

On March 17 of this year, Biti allocated about US$1,6 million to the Ministry of Information for the year ending December 31, 2009.

Would he care to tell us how much of this money was actually released to the ministry?

At the same time, he set aside nearly half that, US$779 500 for the Ministry of Information Communication Technology.

Would he care to tell us how much the ICT Ministry has actually received from Treasury this year?

While he is at it, maybe he could also explain how much money has gone to ensure the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe remains functional.

Tsvangirai can help him answer this question because this writer knows he has documentation in which it seems not a single cent has gone to the RBZ at a time it hasn’t been making any money because of the nature of the gold trade right now.

Right now the RBZ is facing numerous lawsuits because Treasury has basically refused to release money for goods and services already provided for various Government departments.

The general public might not be aware of it, but right now a lot of Government property has been attached by the Sheriff of the High Court because of what is almost certainly a personal battle between Biti and Gono.

As things stand, the RBZ cannot carry out its function as a lender of last resort, something that constrains the functionality of the money market.

It is not inconceivable that soon, and quite soon at that, SWIFT, RTGS and ETS will all collapse and Zimbabwe will no longer have a national payment system.

Surely that cannot be something that tallies with all the publicly stated claims of uniting for economic turnaround.

The fact is, whether anyone likes it or not, any collapse of the RBZ — whether contrived, out of ignorance of its centrality to economic growth and development, or out of genuine error — will result in a similar collapse of Government, in this case the inclusive Government.

Again the end point is the same: there will be an election and we do not need to talk about what elections in Zimbabwe can be like.

Even Mudede is not spared

As we wait for the 2010 National Budget, this would be as good a time as any for Biti to explain exactly what happened to about US$5 million that went to the Ministry of Finance’s consolidated account from the Registrar-General’s Department.

Maybe when this is explained we will all understand why right now the RG is on the verge of failing to produce a single new passport and yet hundreds of them have already been paid for in greenbacks. A person is innocent until proven guilty — or until he/she proves himself incapable of said innocence — and Biti as a public servant would put a lot of minds at ease, not least the RG’s, by explaining what is really going on.

The new farmer should fail

The rains are falling and as they sink into our rich soils, so do our hopes of salvaging anything really meaningful from this summer cropping season. Inputs distribution has been shrouded in mystery; support for commercial farmers, who need active assistance considering they are coming from a Zim dollar economy, is at an all time low, and in all this we continue to claim that ours is an agro-based economy. Where is the commitment to turnaround?

Why is it that Government does not seem keen to ensure a reasonable harvest?

And why is it that there are people in Cabinet who were fuming when after their “disengagement” they found an inputs subsidy scheme in place? The reaction by some in MDC-T to the decision to subsidise inputs puts a lot of things in perspective.

There is no need to explain the centrality of land in Zimbabwe’s historical, contemporary and future socio-political discourse and the wish to see the new farmer fail says much about where the hearts of some of our politicians lie.

In charge of our children’s minds

There is a chap we call the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture who goes by the moniker David Coltart.

Much has been said about how he recently posted on his website an article by British-born and Australian-based child abuser Peter Roebuck.

That Roebuck is in Australia is not surprising. Britain for centuries summarily dispatched its criminals to that country and they just as summarily executed the original inhabitants of Australia to found a nation of ex-convicts.

I don’t care about Roebuck.

He can stuff himself for all I care.

The problem is when a Minister of Education posts on his website a racist article that poses to be about cricket.

Cricket has always claimed to be a gentlemen’s game and if Roebuck is the kind of gent Coltart wants to be when he grows up then we are in trouble.

Our Sports Editor Robson Sharuko has been quite active in trying to draw some remorse from Coltart over his outlandish e-behaviour.

And perhaps as a gentleman who truly wants to see the gentleman’s game develop he has been firm but polite in his analysis of the situation.

I shall not pretend to be a gentleman and will state quite openly that these are some of the things we get when we make BSAP men custodians of education, sports, arts and culture.