Tendai Biti’s six conditions for aid to Zimbabwe: letter to World Bank

Zimbabwe MDC currrency
Tendai Biti (pic: EPA-EFE/Aaron Ufumeli)

In May, the World Bank dipped into a special health fund to provide US$7 million to Zimbabwe to help the country fight the spread of coronavirus.

The US$7 million is made up of US$5 million from the World Bank’s Global Financing Facility Trust Fund and a further US$2 million that is being diverted from the World Bank’s Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project.

On May 21, Tendai Biti, MDC Alliance VP and former Finance Minister, wrote to the World Bank to push for conditions that must be tied to aid and any debt relief. The letter has drawn criticism from government officials and supporters, who see it as an attempt to block aid.

Below, we publish in full Biti’s letter, addressed to World Bank Group President, David Malpass, and copied Hafez Ghanem, the Bank’s VP for Africa:

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Dear President Malpass,

I am a senior official in Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party and the chairman of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, but I am writing to you today as a private citizen and former Minister of Finance (2009-13).

All Africans are grateful for your work to galvanise a global response effort to assist sub-Saharan Africa during the Covid-19 crisis. The swift response by the Bank, as well as your advocacy for the suspension of debt payments, has resonated deeply with those of us who have begun to recognise the long term health and economic consequences of the crisis. We also appreciate the efforts to provide emergency assistance to the people of Zimbabwe, who have been in a desperate situation even before the pandemic struck.

However, even in these unprecedented times, any support from the World Bank Group must contribute towards our shared goal of better health and economic opportunity for the people of Zimbabwe. Any assistance must not be allowed to further enrich or entrench the very people who have destroyed our economy and democracy. Indeed, the regime is already using the lockdown as a pretext for further theft and repression. Any support to Zimbabwe must help in creating sustainable recovery anchored on principles of sound good governance, democracy and the rule of law not patronage, capture or corruption.

  • The corruption levels in Zimbabwe are disturbing. Billions of dollars are being siphoned off through vulnerabilities that include the Command Agriculture scheme, manipulation of foreign exchange markets, fuel procurement, state subsidies, commodities (gold, platinum, chrome diamonds) and public procurement.
  • Despite the suffering of the people, the government continues to spend lavishly on itself, including regular leasing of luxury private jets for use by senior officials.
  • Claims of economic reforms ring hollow. Policy missteps and inconsistencies were most recently captured in the IMF Article IV report of 26 March 2020. As just one recent example, the government is still forcibly converting foreign currency into a pseudo-currency. I was the lead lawyer in a case seeking to block this illegal expropriation of private assets (Stone/Beattie vs CABS, RBZ) which is now going to the constitutional court.
  • Zimbabwe has a shocking and disturbing record of state violence and forced disappearances. On 13 May, three of our party’s strongest women and youth advocates for health – Joana Mamombe (MP for Harare West), Cecilia Chinembiri (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly Vice Chair) and Netsai Marova (Deputy Organising Secretary for Youth) – were arrested by police and tortured by security forces, including brutal sexual assault.

Actors like the World Bank Group must urgently communicate that the COVID crisis cannot be used as a pretext to continue this egregious pattern of political violence and economic repression.

Similarly, we have painfully learned, time and again, that the government will abuse public resources for their own gains rather than for the benefit of Zimbabweans. The only way that we can advance our shared goals to respond to the current crisis is to include robust measures for transparency and accountability in any assistance package.

Even though the donor community accepts that funds cannot be channelled through the government itself, the integrity of any relief is still at risk because of close relationships between senior officials and certain private actors. The World Bank Group should therefore insist that any COVID relief include six simple, proven measures:

  1. Transparency of intended expenditure: All assistance must be clear and public, with information shared so that the average citizen can understand how and where it will be spent.
  2. Transparency of procurement: All contracts must use open and competitive bidding, and must be published online. All successful bidders must be publicly disclosed, including the beneficial ownership of the firms and any subcontractors.
  3. Credible preventive oversight: Given Zimbabwe’s extreme governance challenges, you may want to pre-emptively invite the integrity Vice President to provide any oversight of any Bank funds.
  4. Independent audits: All COVID-19 relief funding should be independently audited and transparently published.
  5. Civil society and the media: Civil society must be encouraged to monitor COVID-19 assistance and be allowed to participate in public debate about the emergency response. The media must also be free to report on government initiatives without fear of reprisal.
  6. Parliamentary oversight: All agreements, and all assistance, and any funding, must be laid before parliament with parliament given the opportunity to scrutinise.

These six features must be included in any assistance package and achieved without delay.

Finally, I understand that the government has pleaded with the Bank for more assistance and a way out of its current debt arrears the same concerns about retrenchment and repression apply. I would be happy to help facilitate a dialogue between the Bank and civil society on the arrears question as a way of ensuring that international support to Zimbabwe is consistent with economic and democratic reform and not a step backwards for our long-suffering people.

Sincerely,

Tendai Biti

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