Sunday, 01 July 2012 00:52
Finance Minister and MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti has attracted a lot of mixed attention since the establishment of the inclusive Government three years ago, ranging from his economic policies, constant clashes with civil servants, views on President Mugabe, his political ambitions and his relationship with his party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Sunday Mail Deputy Editor Nomsa Nkala (NN) speaks to the minister (TB) on these and other issues.
NN: What are your views on the performance of the inclusive Government since its inception?
TB: The GNU (Government of National Unity) has been a very difficult place to be. Sometimes we have crossed, fought unnecessarily. But I think at the end of the day if you have to have a balance sheet of the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages, the pain we have suffered is far outweighed by the value and dividend that the GNU has brought to our people. We brought a modicum of peace and stability to our country and that is very important . . . We are not yet there economically, but we have given our people a modicum of time out. Most importantly, I think we have restored the social contract. There is now predictability and certainty in Zimbabwe. There is also the restoration of functional institutions.
[Restored the social contract, after destroying it by invoking economic sanctions and calling for a foreign invasion in order to get into power. - MrK]
The two political parties (Zanu-PF and MDC-T) have gotten together much more closely. The greatest lesson of the last three years is that we can work together; we are all Zimbabweans. While we can choose our friends we cannot choose our country . . . We are stuck together. Every Monday at 3pm the President and the Prime Minister have meetings. They have pancakes, tea in expensive chinaware and one should never underestimate those meetings. Possibly more than anything else, those teas have been the glue that has kept this nation together in the last three years.
I was in Luanda (Angolan capital) recently, for the extraordinary meeting of heads of state and government of Sadc and we were in the Troika Organ. Each of us was (sitting) behind our (respective) leaders. President Mugabe in the case of Zanu-PF, president Tsvangirai in the case of MDC-T, Professor Welshman Ncube in the case of his party and, of course, there is no house without its own stories, Professor Arthur Mutambara miraculously always finds himself on the table.
I have been in these negotiations since 2007, but now you can see that people can differ, but they are not enemies; they are just opponents. So they can differ, they have different opinions. It is no longer the life-and-death winner-take-all mentality: I kill you, you kill me.
There has been a movement of the nation towards the search of what I call the decisive element; What does it mean to be a Zimbabwean? We may have different beliefs, but there is a tag which we have never unpacked, the tag of “what it means to be a Zimbabwean” . . . One of the fault lines of our country is that we have never unpacked that national question. The inclusive Government has given us a starting point of beginning to unpack some of these hard questions of nationhood that the Americans — the Thomas Jeffersons, the George Washingtons, the Hamiltons of this world, answered in America in 1774 to 1777. We need to unpack that question.
NN: So what does it mean to you to be Zimbabwean?
TB: I think in the long term, the sacrosanctity of the identity of Zimbabweanhood must not be compromised under any circumstances because it is almost like your birthright; you cannot change it. So the sooner we accept that the better. The second thing is respect and tolerance . . . let us accept that we are all the same. There is also the question of the rule of law. We should all be below the law. The law must treat us equally . . . We are all ordinary people so we should not be afraid of power and the State. The next issue is on how we solve our disputes.
To me it is so important that we should not use violence as an instrument of political arbitration. This is critical. Let us have our differences and you must persuade me to see things your way. But do not use violence. We must never be a society run by coercion.
NN: You spoke about compromising one’s Zimbabweanhood. What would you say constitutes this aspect?
TB: There are a number of things that compromise your country. For instance, this country will never be a colony of anyone again. It is not possible. Even those you might want to sell the country to, do not want it. The British do not want the burden of another colony again and certainly not the Americans. So we are now talking of smart imperialism, more subtle imperialism.
If you negotiate a contract, a bad deal for the country . . . you are selling your country.
So, this is the post-colonial stage we are living in. There are many ways in which we are compromising our country. My experience in Government is that incompetence, lack of advice and technology; the bad deals that we are negotiating are part of compromising our country. Also not recognising what is in the best interest of our country also constitutes the bundle of what I call selling the country.
NN: Taking you back to the inclusive Government, what has been the relationship of the ministers from the different sides and how effectively have you carried out your inter-linked responsibilities?
TB: I think the relationship which all of us admire is the relationship between the Prime Minister and the President. I think they have found their own zone, their own space, which is above their parties. You see it in their body language that these people have now found dialogue and the space within which they communicate, which is above both MDC-T and Zanu-PF. At individual ministerial level, I think there are a lot of cross-party relations. There is a lot of cross-party understanding.
One of the things about government is that you cannot do it alone. If you adopt a silo-approach to government you will fail. So the Minister of Finance must work with the Minister of Mines, the Minister of Transport, etc.
NN: So is that happening?
TB: It is absolutely happening. I have just spent two hours with (Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment) Minister (Saviour) Kasukuwere trying to persuade each other on the balance between foreign direct investment and empowerment. It was a very good meeting. So you need those synergies . . .
Of course, there are still tensions, but I think people are mature enough . . . The synergies are there, understandings are there, which is important because we are serving the same people.
NN: What is your opinion of the leadership qualities of the three inclusive Government principals?
TB: I think they complement each other. Arthur Mutambara is younger than all of them. He has energy and is robust. I think Prime Minister Tsvangirai naturally respects President Mugabe, and that is very important, and he also understands that there are certain decisions which have to be made by the President. I think they understand each other. President Mugabe is the founding President of this country, so I do not think anyone in Government denies the invaluability of his wisdom and experience. If you sit in Cabinet, the one thing about the President is that he is unflappable. He will give you time. I must confess that.
NN: How is your personal relationship with him, the President?
TB: We have had to take difficult and unpopular decisions at the Ministry of Finance. There is no finance ministry, if it is doing its work correctly, that will be popular. It is about the best interests of the economy. I want to tell you that I have basically been allowed to do what I believe is in the best interest of the country. When I do my budget I take it to President Mugabe.
There has not been a single discussion where he has said, “No, no.” He will say, “Why don’t you have a relook at this, but he will not use the word “no” . . . I speak my mind in the private meetings. I have had meetings with the President that have lasted for three hours . . . I respect that and I also respect his counsel. What I have come to realise is that if I have a difficult issue, he will unlock it. What I want to also appreciate about the man is his capacity to listen, counsel, most importantly, his unflappability. It is very important for a leader to listen to both sides (of a story) and not to (easily) get angry.
NN: He doesn’t get angry if you oppose him?
TB: No, no, no . . . he is unflappable. I will never be like him. I am a bulldozer, a black rhinoceros. That is why I used to support Black Rhinos (Football Club); force, force. He is the opposite. We have learnt a lot from him. I sit with him and talk for hours.
NN: What do you talk about mostly?
TB: You will be surprised what we talk about. We talk about everything: girls, politics, everything (giggles)!
NN: So what is your overall opinion of the man?
TB: We find counsel and wisdom in him. His importance in this country will be seen once he’s gone. When he’s gone that is when you will see that this man was Zimbabwe. Some of us who came from different parties have had to learn a lot from the man. He is a fountain of experience, fountain of knowledge and, most importantly, a fountain of stability. There are a lot of horrible things that would have happened in this country if he had not said “No.” History will prove the correctness of this statement. He has been the number one symbol of stability. There are people who would have wanted to destroy this country internally, but his value has been to say “No.” Even this GNU; there are people who wanted to destroy it within two months, and it would have died. Where would we have been with a hyperinflation of 500 billion percent? So, I think us younger generations are lucky to have gone through his hands.
NN: From what you are saying, he seems to have been largely misunderstood then because that’s not how he is portrayed in some quarters.
TB: He is a very seductive man . . . If you have a private discussion with him, you will be shocked by the calmness. I have been saying to my British friends that he is the most British of all British people I have come across . . . He is very calm and seductive: I am sure every woman is in love with him.
NN: Given the history of this country with the past colonial masters, do you think he has done his best in leading this country?
TB: He has defended his country. I think he has fought his generational fight, which was the liberation and democratisation of the country. He fought and fought very well. This generation, you and me, must take this country to another level, which is economic liberation. So, Robert Mugabe as the nationalist, as the liberator, he has fought a good fight. But what has our generation done? Each generation must fight its own fight. I am very clear about what we have to do in this generation. In my small way, I would like to think that I am fighting the battles of my own generation. Unfortunately, I do not think my own generation has a common and united understanding of the generational obligations of our time.
NN: Why do you say so?
TB: You see the growing immaturity and pettiness . . .
NN: There is a growing Pan-African perspective and admiration for President Mugabe across Africa as people get to understand his ideologies. I guess from what you are saying you share the same views?
TB: Well, Pan-Africa is important. African solidarity is important. But I also understand that I now live in a very complicated global world . . . I must have the craft competence of negotiating with the British, Americans, Malaysians, Chinese and so forth. That is the fight of my generation. This generation must now be streetwise. In the 1960s, Africa was very important. Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo were fighting a war against colonialism which demanded a united Africa. Then there was a time when the south had to unite.
Now we have Brics (a group of emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and South Africa is in Brics. There is now G20, G77 and there is also G120, which is a gathering of us poor countries and post-fragile states.
So, it is a much more refined world and we have to be much smarter. That is why I said President Mugabe fought his fight, which was largely cerebral, physical. The war of liberation is physical, you need guns; you need energetic people. The war of our generation is more cerebral, it is more of use of brain power.
[Enter Morgan Tsvangirai... - MrK]
NN: With elections coming up, what qualities do you think a leader of this country should have?
TB: I think the voters will vote, but to me, the one most important quality is love for one’s country and love for everyone in Zimbabwe — respect and tolerance.
NN: Moving on to the economy, which is the battle, which, you say, your generation has to fight, there is still high unemployment and industrial distress, especially in Bulawayo. There were suggestions, including within Government itself, that the Ministry of Finance should use the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to revive industry. What are the bottlenecks regarding the SDRs?
TB: We have withdrawn the money. The SDR was a mere US$500 million. The only money that is left is US$100 million, which we cannot use because we do not know what will happen if the political leaders say they want an election. So there has to be a contingent plan, and Government understands that. The requirements of this country exceed US$18 billion. Just on infrastructure alone within the next five years, the country needs US$12 billion. On energy generation alone we require
US$4 billion. Then water, roads and information communication technology. So the infrastructure deficit alone is US$12 billion. This is why I said we have to be much smarter, we have to be reintegrated into the world economy, we have to sort our arrears question, which is putting an impediment on our capacity to borrow from the World Bank and the African Development Bank. We have to lower our country risk profile so that we are able to go on to normal capital markets to borrow money at cheap markets at 2 percent; 1 percent concessionary lending, which we are not able to do.
There is no way we are going to grow this economy without foreign direct investment, without overseas development assistance. We have to normalise our relations with the Americans, the British, the West, the Chinese, the Malaysians. It is not about looking East or West; it is about looking forward in the best interest of this country.
NN: What is the country doing to attract foreign direct investment?
TB: There are four fundamental things we are doing. The first is the bilateral and multilateral engagements with the West. This is why you have seen the committee of ministers (Energy and Power Development), Elton Mangoma, (Regional Integration and International Co-operation), Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and (Justice and Legal Affairs), Patrick Chinamasa working hard to ensure that we complete our re-engagement.
Number two is re-engagement with international financial institutions. We are working very hard to normalise relations. That is why we published the Zimbabwe Accelerated Arrears Development Strategy.
Number three is to put our house in political order. We had an urgent Cabinet meeting on finances alone on Thursday July 5 2012. We came up with a vast array of measures, which are decisive. Nobody told us to do that. The IMF was very pleased . . . In my mid-term statement I am going to make major announcements to refocus this economy on the growth trajectory. What we are simply doing is to say that we are Zimbabweans, we understand our errors: omissions and commissions of the past, but we will be able, using our own common sense, to refocus and redirect our economy so that it is in the best interest of our people. If our economy is serving the majority of our people, I can tell you it will be able to integrate with that of South Africa. The whole idea of sovereign governments is to serve your people. That is what some of us have been trying to do tirelessly in the last three years.
[Actually you have been trying to 'grow the economy' to loosen the tension agenda of the old order? Which is what Finance Minister Biti said in front of The Atlantic Council. I quote: " Expanding the economy is critical because it loosens the grip of the old order. It loosens the power and tension agenda, expanding and dealing with the economy. " - MrK]
NN: How have the Western-imposed sanctions or restrictive measures affected you in execution of your duties?
TB: Zimbabwe has to be integrated, so we have to be a full member of the international community. That is unpardonable, unforgivable. We are such a tiny little country. Right now, our gross domestic product (GDP) is US$11 billion, which is slightly higher than that of Lesotho and Swaziland. In 1990, we were the second highest GDP in Southern Africa after South Africa.
[And what happened in 1991, to be specific, from 1991 to 1996? That was the imposition of the neoliberal ESAP policies, dictated to Zimbabwe by the World Bank. - MrK]
So whatever restrictions are there are not serving the best interests of Zimbabwe. Equally, as Zimbabweans, let us address those issues that gave rise to those sanctions or measures, whatever you want to call them. Some of us have been very clear. I have spent hours and hours with (US Assistant Secretary of State for
African Affairs) Johnny Carson and people at the European Union . . . It’s not about Robert Mugabe or Zanu-PF, it’s about every Zimbabwean.
NN: You are often criticised for your perceived reluctance to fund agriculture. What is your comment?
TB: The resource envelope is narrow. I think most of the criticism is made out of ignorance. Until 2000, 79 percent of all bank lending in Zimbabwe went to agriculture. What this means is that agriculture has always primarily been financed by the banking system. This is the story in Canada, South Africa and Kenya. There is no government in the world that can adequately finance agriculture. It is not possible. We have done the best that we can under a very restrictive budget. The requirements of agriculture are US$2 billion per year. That is our entire budget. Between February 2009 and now, the Government has pumped in at least US$700 million into agriculture. The rest of the financial sector has put in about US$1,3 billion to create a total of US$2 billion finance since 2009 to now. We have seen that producing results. In 2008, maize production was 200 000 metric tonnes. Tobacco was a mere 32 000kg.
In 2010, we had 1,5 million kilogrammes of maize; 135 million kg of tobacco. We had over 300 000 tonnes of cotton. So if you want to see what we have done on agriculture, compare the outputs of 2008 and now. What everyone needs to understand — whether it is farmers, doctors, nurses — is that the cake is small. We have been struggling to pay wages in the last six months. If you speak to the Salary Services Bureau, the pay dates of civil servants in 2012 have changed three times because we have not been able to pay on normal dates.
The economy is not performing . . . But I am not the one who is going to cry and sit and feel pity for myself. I am a doer. I will look the beast in the eye; I will not blink and I will look forward and implement the policies that are in the best interest of the country.
That is what I am going to do in the budget announcement in the next two weeks. You will see boldness, you will see leadership.
NN: You have had constant clashes with civil servants . . .
TB: The economy is small; we can cry, but that’s that. We are very transparent at the Ministry of Finance and we are going to slash the national budget significantly next month. That is a recognition that we cannot meet our targets. We do not have money. So, the issue is: whether you are a civil servant, farmer, doctor, lawyer and you say you want more money under circumstances where the original budget is actually being cut, where will it come from? If you can show us where the money is going to come from, then fine.
It is a State of austerity. All of us must understand that. If this Government were irresponsible, then it would be building stadiums and buying helicopters and guns, but we are not doing that.
In 2009, I came up with the philosophy that we must eat what we kill. If all Zimbabweans, including civil servants, are killing a rat, then you cannot expect to eat an elephant when you are killing a rat. It is common sense. The best economists in Zimbabwe are ordinary housewives.
They know that if my husband earns US$200, I am going to shop at Mupedzanhamo (Mbare Flea Market in Harare). You cannot go into Barbours (Department Store) when your husband is earning US$100.
A lot of us are getting into Barbours, if not Harrods (British luxury store) when we are earning US$100. It is basic economics. You don’t need (American economists) Paul Volcker or (Alan) Greenspan to tell you this. The Ministry of Finance does not have a secret machine where we print US dollars.
NN: On the banks that are facing liquidation . . . shouldn’t you have intervened earlier as the responsible ministry to avert this crisis? Should you not have seen it coming?
TB: I respect the law: I am a lawyer. The regulator is the Central Bank. The banking sector in Zimbabwe is sound. We have 23 banks. Of these, we have shut down one and another is under curatorship. During the global economic crisis of 2008, hundreds of banks fell.
All regulatory authorities in the past few years were caught with their pants down because of regulatory arbitrage and the over-creativity of the banking sector. This is the reason why I am going to come up with major amendments to the Banking Act to deal with this issue of regulatory arbitrage.
The problem with the banks has really been an issue of corporate governance, insider arm-length lending to oneself and so forth. That explains why NMB is sound, functional, yet it is an indigenous bank while others are crumbling. The corporate culture there is different. FBC is arguably the best-run bank in Zimbabwe; it is also an indigenous bank . . .
NN: So, will the situation be different in future with the new measures you are introducing?
TB: Things will be different. We also want to encourage our black brothers to merge their small banks and create strong ones. This idea of merely boasting about owning a bank is primitive. We are going to encourage mergers to create strong indigenous banks that are able to stand on their feet.
NN: Moving on to politics, do you have confidence in the leadership of the MDC where you are secretary-general?
TB: Absolutely, I would not be there. Prime Minister Tsvangirai is one of the most wonderful, but, like President Mugabe, also very much misunderstood, very much understated people. You need to know him to understand the qualities of that man: the sense of love, forgiveness and fairness. I would not be in the MDC. Our party split and I could have gone anywhere, but I chose to stay with him under extremely difficult circumstances because of his qualities as a man.
NN: Do you have aspirations to one day lead the MDC?
TB: People should never have ambitions, in my view. God will put you where he wants you (to be). If you look at the history of Zanu-PF, Robert Mugabe would never have been the President of Zanu-PF. If you look at the history of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai would never have been there. God places you. I find it very difficult (to understand) when people who are ambitious say, “I want to be president and so forth.” God is there. People are quarrelling over who will succeed Mugabe, but God has already predetermined. Our people are also not fools. They will judge you on your commissions and omissions. I personally do not worry about those things. I do not think about those things. I will never phone anyone to conspire, telling them I want to be this or that. If you said to me, during those days when I was a young lawyer, “you are going to be the Minister of Finance”, I would have said you are crazy.
NN: There is talk of an uncomfortable relationship between you and Prime Minister Tsvangirai, is your relationship normal?
TB: It is more than normal. It is very very good. He knows where I am and what I am doing at all times.
NN: Minister, your party has always been accused of taking instructions from Western countries. Are you a puppet of the West?
TB: That is cheap propaganda. We are a Zimbabwean party as anyone else. The good thing is that the last three years have proved it and we have been in Government. There is never a budget I have presented that you can say is an MDC budget. It is a Zimbabwean budget . . . That is patronising . . . It is assuming that black people do not think, therefore they can be influenced by a foreigner. It is false. No one thinks on behalf of someone else.
NN: But do you receive donor funding though from outside as a party?
TB: We do not. It is unlawful. We received funding under the Political Parties Act and that is fact.
NN: There are also claims that the West is rooting for you to take over from Mr Tsvangirai . . .
TB: That’s absolute nonsense! That is rubbish! We have one leader and that is Morgan Richard Tsvangirai. Let me state it on record that I will never challenge Morgan Tsvangirai as leader of MDC.
NN: The last primary elections of MDC-T in Bulawayo were characterised by violence. Would you say there is factionalism within the party and intra-party violence?
TB: There is a general problem of violence across the country, even in churches. The Anglican Church has been split by violence. We are largely a sick society from that point of view, which is why I referred to the importance of national healing and reconciliation, love and so forth.
Our people in Bulawayo are very brave people, very dedicated people . . . We have our own challenges as a party, as a nation. Let us address them.
NN: So, one cannot blame violence on Zanu-PF alone as has been the case in some quarters?
TB: It is a national problem.
NN: What are your thoughts on the land reform programme and indigenisation?
TB: On the land reform programme, as MDC, we differ with the manner in which it was done. However, it is now water under the bridge.
What is important is that we rationalise and democratise it, which is why you have heard me saying that anyone who has been given land must now be secure.
Give the beneficiaries long leases or titles to allow them to sell their properties, transfer them to their children in their wills, hypothecate them to banks and borrow money.
The revolution must have a conclusion. If the programme was about taking land from white people, the next Chimurenga on land should be to restore the property (land) market.