'National Debt issues to improve with COPAC Draft' -CSO's

"The Public Debt Contraction process is bound to improve if the COPAC Draft constitution, released on the 18th of July 2012, is adopted in its current form as the new constitution of Zimbabwe €. These were the sentiments of social and economic justice movements attending the CSO Leaders Indaba, held in Harare from the 18th to the 19th of October 2012.

Mr Hopewell Gumbo of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), who spoke on behalf of the sector, after sectoral workshops at the Indaba said,

"We see a number of provisions in the Draft Constitution which seek to improve our public finance management. One such area that will be improved by this draft constitution is how government borrows money on behalf of the citizens. For the first time there is recognition of the need for transparency and accountability €.

He added, "There is also mention in the draft constitution of development focused borrowing €.

Zimbabwe is saddled with a debilitating debt crisis. Zimbabweans have been questioning both the way government has been borrowing from various financial institutions and the manner in which the borrowed money has been used in the past. Concerns have also been raised about the lack of transparency and accountability in the process of acquiring loans. Further concerns have been voiced on the fact that some of the funds which were borrowed from various creditors have never been used for the intended purposes, but fell prey to corrupt elites. Zimbabwe's external debt to financial institutions that include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Paris Club of Donors is projected to reach US $8 billion by the end of 2012 according to London based non-profit making organization Jubilee Debt Campaign.

There has also been contestation in the Inclusive Government on the way forward in dealing with the debt question of Zimbabwe.   Finance Minister Tendai Biti suggested many times that the Zimbabwean state should seek cancellation of its debt through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. This route has been vehemently opposed by the ZANU PF side of the Inclusive Government which continuously argues that Zimbabwe is not a poor country.

Addressing delegates at the Civil Society Indaba, Mr Gumbo articulated part of the main socio-economic rights captured by the draft by indicating that "There is a stipulation in Chapter 10, broadly on the issue of prudent use of resources and citizen participation in that process. There is a provision that public loans will have to be approved by parliament and gazetted for 90 days before each loan is finally approved. There is also a provision for development focused borrowing. Further, the Finance Minister will have to report twice a year to Parliament on the state of all loans acquired by the state or national debt. € He added, "We think that these are groundbreaking constitutional provisions €.

"However we think that the number of times that the Finance Minister reports back to parliament should have been increased to more than just two times per year. We also think that the gazetting period of 90 days, almost three months is too long given that parliament would have already debated on the issue. Maybe the erroneous assumption was that parliament would debate the issue before public consultation on the matter €, said Mr Gumbo.

Transparency International- Zimbabwe (TIZ) concurred with the sentiments and added that there are significant strides in addressing public administration issues in the Draft constitution although many of these largely depended on the rule of law and political will.

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