FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe and opposition MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai have been fingered as having substantially benefited from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s controversial $1,35 billion debt which government wants to take over.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
This came out yesterday as legislators debated the RBZ Debt Assumption Bill which sailed through the second reading stage amid protests by opposition MPs who demanded that the National Assembly conduct a secret vote in a bid to stop its passage.
During the debate, the MPs claimed that part of the RBZ’s millions of dollars had been used to build First Lady Grace’s highly mechanised multi-million dollar Alpha and Omega Dairy project and Tsvangirai’s Highlands mansion in Harare.
Opposition MPs argued that the bill should not be passed as it benefited top Zanu PF and government officials, among them First Lady Grace.
But Zanu PF shot back saying the MDC-T leader was also a beneficiary of RBZ’s benevolence.
Opposition legislators wanted a secret vote on the bill, but Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda thwarted them, ruling that this could only be entertained at the Third Reading Stage before the Bill was passed into law.
MDC-T chief whip Innocent Gonese and Kuwadzana East MP Nelson Chamisa had proposed a secret vote, saying Parliament could not be railroaded to pass the Bill without a clear explanation as to how the money was used.
“The people are saying this is a diabolical Bill and they equate it to Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), and they are saying the RBZ has assets and must pay its debts, and if there are people who benefited, then they must be made to account,” Gonese said.
“People need to know who benefited at a time when the RBZ was behaving as Father Christmas and to solve the issue of conflict of interest all MPs who benefited certainly must be precluded from taking part in the vote to pass this Bill.”
But Mudenda said: “I made a ruling that at this stage that we are, it does not permit voting.”
Gonese, however, said he had qualms with the way some of the debts were described because Zimbabweans could be paying for money used to buy houses for “small houses” or lobola for second wives of some individuals.
“For example, the Medallion Gold, Anglo American debt and other debts have no clear explanation as to how the debt was incurred. It is only described as a variance and how can Parliament be expected to condone such a debt? We need full disclosure and explanations and those people that benefited must be made to reduce the $1,35 billion debt,” he said.
Gonese said some amounts on the RBZ debt was used to pay for electricity debts and fuel for “Zanu PF fat cats”.
“You expect the poor impoverished Zimbabweans to pay? I want to challenge Zanu PF MPs that if they have the interests of the people at heart, they must join us in blocking this Bill so that we ensure those who benefited reduce the amount,” he said.
Nkayi South MP Abednigo Bhebhe (MDC-T) reiterated: “This is a private debt and if Zanu PF MPs insist on government taking over, then we will require that this House be divided so that Zimbabweans can actually judge who have the interests of the people in this House and who are the people in this House actually sanctioning looting.”
This prompted Marondera East MP Jeremiah Chiwetu (Zanu PF) to hit back saying the $3 million used by the RBZ to buy Tsvangirai’s Highlands house when he was Prime Minister had contributed to the contested RBZ debt.
“If we say Tsvangirai should pay back the $3 million, can he manage? He cannot even manage $1 500 per month,” Chiwetu said.
In response, Binga North MP Prince Dubeko Sibanda (MDC-T) claimed that First Lady Grace’s Alpha and Omega Dairy project was built using RBZ money and partly contributed to the debt.
Zanu PF Proportional Representation MP Sabina Mangwende said those farmers who got agricultural implements sold a lot of maize to the Grain Marketing Board, but had not yet been paid.
She said they would only pay back for the equipment they got after the GMB has paid them for maize deliveries.
After a heated debate, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told legislators that a separate Bill would soon be introduced in Parliament for the setting-up of a Zimbabwe Debt Office to verify and validate the RBZ debt.
He, however, pleaded with the MPs to urgently pass the RBZ Debt Assumption Bill in its current state, saying validation of the debt might take long as the central bank required about $250 million to recapitalise.
The Bill now goes to Committee Stage where Chinamasa promised some amendments.