October 11, 2009
By Raymond Maingire
HARARE – Finance Minister Tendai Biti says he has battled powerful politicians aligned to President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party who were determined to see the country bleed to death through unbridled corruption.
He says he has brought order and sanity into the governance of economic affairs, much to the chagrin of ‘grandmasters of looting.’
Biti, who has just won the 2009 Euro Money Emerging Market Best Finance Minister in Africa award, is adamant he would not abandon his job through pressure from hawks opposed to his policies.
The 44-year-old lawyer turned politician, however, says he would not hesitate to return to his law firm if undue executive authority were to be applied to force him to abandon the very same policies that have brought him respect among his African peers.
Speaking for the first time since being presented with the prestigious award, a modest Biti said he believed he had been honoured for his cutthroat policies that have brought back sanity to what had become the world’s most turbulent economy.
“It (award) is in honour of the decent things that we have done in 2009,” Biti said.
“We have stopped the bleeding. We have put in some decency and we have put in some sanity under exceptionally difficult circumstances and conditions.”
Biti was being hosted in a pre-recorded television programme, the transition, at Harare’s New Ambassador Hotel.
The programme is set to be aired on the local ZTV in a few weeks to come, according to Information and Publicity deputy minister Jameson Timba.
Timba, an MDC legislator for Mount Pleasant constituency, is behind the programme, which he says was meant to appraise the general public on the operations of the inclusive government.
The award given to Biti has attracted displeasure from some of his critics within the current inclusive government who find the prize as unbefitting for a minister with only eight months into his job.
Outspoken Tsholotsho North Independent MP, Professor Jonathan Moyo, who has rejoined Zanu-PF, says Biti was a “manifestly unqualified and reckless Minister of Finance who is a laughing stock in his own country”.
But Biti is adamant he deserved the honour although he admits he still needs to do more to rescale the economic performance levels that existed in the mid 90s.
This was a few years before a plethora of populist but disastrous polices by President Robert Mugabe’s government triggered a devastating economic downturn that saw the once vibrant economy shrink by 60 percent in 10 years.
“We need to graduate from the macroeconomic era that we are going through to finding an economic stabilization and to the era of growth, transformation and reconstruction,” he said.
“We would want to get an award for wiping out unemployment of 95 percent and getting basic infrastructure working again.”
Biti said he would be happier if Zimbabwe would graduate from “the small miserable African state to an African giant that has to take its place among the giants of the African continent”.
He added, “One thing that I am proud of as an individual is predictability and consistency. Those are the two foundations of trust.”
“An economy works on the basis of predictability and trust and what we have done in the past seven months is to bring predictability, consistency and therefore some legitimacy.”
The MDC legislator, who has won a lot of admirers for restricting controversial central bank governor and close ally to President Mugabe, Gideon Gono, denies accusations that he was tying to sabotage the Zimbabwean economy.
There is a growing chorus of resentment to his policies by Zanu-PF officials since the finance minister got involved in a wrangle with Gono over the use of a US$510 million special credit line extended by the IMF to help developing countries deal with the impact of the global economic downturn.
“You cannot sabotage an economy that has been abused vandalized and raped such as the one which we had,” he said.
“The order and sanity which we have brought in the governance of economic affairs in this country has threatened shareholders of past grandmasters of looting, grandmasters of corruption, grandmasters of eating.
“There are people that have been eating our country. What we have done is to make sure that we play by the rules, to make sure that we play by the constitution of this country, to make sure that we play by the economic logic that is detected by our reality.
“There are those people that are blind to the reality of our mediocre situation and it’s a myth that is peddled that we are too rich to be poor and so a lot of myths are being peddled.
“There are certain people that were flourishing from the status quo. There are cat fish out there. A cat fish can only hunt in muddy waters. When it wants to hunt, it goes to the bottom and makes sure the water is muddied.”
Biti defended his firm handling of Gono, whom he has liked to a member of Al Qaeda to be brought before a firing squad.
“In 2008, the Reserve Bank’s economic activities were 34 percent of Gross Domestic Product. In 2007 they were 24 percent. In 2006 they were 32 percent. If you have a situation where basically your economy is now the Reserve Bank, there is something wrong.
“One has to deal with these issues of abuse which were being done through the euphemism of something called quasi-fiscal activities when there was nothing quasi about those activities, when they were pure involvement in the economy to the detriment of the Treasury and to the detriment of everyone else.”
Biti, regarded as a hardliner within the MDC, said although he took his job begrudgingly as he did not want to join the inclusive government, he would not be pressured out of it by people opposed to his policies.
“Having worked in the ministry of finance, I will not suffer fools. Fools will not celebrate having made me quit. They are not going to make me quit.
“The wars that are created, the arsenals and the arrows that are sent on us are not from government. I can live with that. I knew from day one that I was going to swim in sewage pond, so I can’t complain that the odour is bad.”
He added, “If I was to be told to sacrifice my principles that are fundamental to get this economy on its feet. If anyone tells me to bring back the Zimbabwean dollar tomorrow, then they would be a vacancy on the sixth floor of the new government complex (his office) and I am very clear on that.”