Biti vows to nail looting govt 'mafia'

 Biti vows to nail looting govt 'mafia'
Published: 01 September 2019 (250 Views)
THE chairperson of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (Pac), Tendai Biti, has vowed to deal with the "debilitating" corruption in government and any "looters" who will be unmasked by his committee's ongoing probe of the controversial Command Agriculture programme.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Daily News on Sunday yesterday, the tough-talking Harare East MDC legislator also bemoaned the fact that many Zimbabweans appeared to be oblivious of the "depth of the ditch" of corruption in the country — adding that the situation sometimes made him to want to cry.

This comes after Biti and his committee recently revealed that a staggering US$3 billion was possibly misappropriated through the contentious Command Agriculture — sending shockwaves throughout the country, with outraged Zimbabweans baying for the culprits to be brought to book.

It also comes after the permanent secretary of the Lands and Agriculture ministry, Ringson Chitsiko— and his finance director, Peter Mudzamiri — appeared before Biti's committee last month, in the light of Auditor General Mildred Chiri's 2017 and 2018 audit reports.

The disgusted committee querie why the ministry had failed to provide supporting documents for the US$3 billion for Command Agriculture — including about US$847 million which was disbursed directly to service providers, most of which is feared to have been paid fraudulently.

However, Chitisiko and Mudzamiri distanced themselves from any fraudulent activities — blaming Treasury, for having forced them to embrace Treasury Bills which were paid to many unknown suppliers.

At its inception, the Command Agriculture programme was said to be the brainchild of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

It was largely funded by Sakunda Holdings which is owned by businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei —who is also a major player in the country's fuel industry.

The terms under which Sakunda was contracted have never been disclosed.

The Pac probe also revealed that Sakunda had allegedly supplied nine vehicles, whose registration books were missing at the time of Chiri's audit.

The Lands ministry is also said to have not received US$1 million worth of vehicles which were paid for in December 2017. In addition, 36 tractors, 30 other motor vehicles and 200 motor bikes — which were received by the ministry through a grant from China — were also not recorded in the ministry's asset registry.

"We have got the main budget statement which the minister read out and it had a figure of debt of $17 billion. Then we have the blue book which says that debt is now $9,5 billion — and we have another blue book, and up to now we don't know where it came from, and it had different figures.

"We have a dysfunctional State.That's why I say Zimbabweans don't know the depth of the crisis and it's frightening. It makes me cry.

"They put foreign debtors in the blue book as local debtors. How does a Chinese company become a local debtor?" the angry Biti queried.

"The people of Zimbabwe are asleep. They don't know the depth of the ditch. They are 10 kilometres under, in the Indian Ocean. It's terrible ... frightening, depressing and debilitating," Biti, who is also the vice president of the MDC, added.

The former Finance minister also said the country had turned into a "pariah State" following the recent arrests, abductions and torture of opposition and pro-democracy activists.

"It shows you that we are a pariah State, a tyrannical government which compares very well with countries such as North Korea and Venezuela. You can't be abducting people every single day and think that that is normal.

"They have been abducting our members and leadership through- out the country because they are paranoid. Their re-engagement with the West is dead because no one wants to associate themselves with a rogue regime," he said.

"Add to this the fact that they are corrupt, incompetent and steal
directly from the budget. In other dictatorial countries, people have food on their table, but this government steals directly from the people... it's banditry.

"While other dictators also steal from their people, they make sure that people get food. Here, they are committing a grand heist against their own people," the firebrand constitutional lawyer added.

Biti also said as a result of the country's economic meltdown, many people were suffering more than they had experienced before.

"About 80 percent of our people, particularly in urban areas and in Model A1 farms are living on less than US$0,35 per day — surviving on tsaona sekuru (virtually nothing).

"People have started dying and life expectancy has now come down to 38 years for men and 36 for women. In a few years' time, we will back to the era where life expectancy will be 34 for men and 31 for women.

"For months now, we have gone with four hours of electricity a day. We are without water and fuel. How many hours do we have to spend in queues, without money? ... So it's terrible," Biti said further.

Meanwhile, the Pac continues to unmask the shocking surge in the government's spending outside the National Budget, despite official pronouncements of austerity measures.

Biti says the off-budget expenditure is a serious transgression, adding that the deviation is "unprecedented".

According to the Pac, the committee is seeking Treasury's explanations to charges that the government spent a staggering US$2,7 billion off-budget in 2017 — and at least US$3,3 billion in 2018.

Adding the off-budget expenditure over the two years, it means that the government has blown aginormous $6 billion outside the National Budget since 2017 when Mnangagwa came to power via a soft-coup that dethroned Robert Mugabe.

Biti says this has starved the fiscus of the resources it needs to plough into the country's health, education and other key sectors.
Chiri has also raised disquiet over this inexplicable expenditure, questioning how the government could spend so much money without supporting vouchers and Parliamentary oversight.

Documents in possession of the Daily News on Sunday containing what is referred to as the "Additional Demands On The 2018Budget Accommodated Through The UnAllocated Reserve Vote" reveal the extent of the unbudgeted for funding — including a payment to the Defence Forces of a whopping US$130m, despite the security forces having got a gigantic US$5,8
billion in the National Budget that year.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) also got US$28,2 million in off-budget funds, while the Airforce of Zimbabwe got US$9 million —without any explanations as to what this money was used for, or supporting vouchers.

Then there are so-called "Special Services Projects" which got US$22,5m million, and another US$22,1 million which was allocated to "Other General Operations" which are not specified.
There was also US$51,5 million which was allocated to "Business Travel" — even though the National Budget itself had money for travelling.

In addition, there was also an off-budget allocation of US$6,1 million for "Escort Vehicles", an item denonated as "Special Medical Re-quirements" got US$22,7 million— ostensibly for the medical billsof Zimbabwe's elites outside the country.

There was also a curious disbursement of US$14,2 million for the "Purchase of Land and User Rights", while US$138,1 mIllion was allocated to struggling power utility Zesa.

The virtually moribund Air Zimbabwe also got US$51,1 million,while companies such as CAPS Holdings, Hwange Colliery, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company and Sedco — where the government has minority stakes — also received funding under this dubious arrangement.

Biti said it was unbelievable that Treasury could be so acquiescent "in the plunder of the State". "The gatekeeper is the one who is crushing the gate," he said, in minister Mthuli Ncube.

- dailynews

Tags: biti,

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