Court reserves judgement in Ncube inflation rate blackout challenge

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

MASVINGO High Court Judge, Sunsley Zisengwe on Monday reserved judgment on an application filed by a trade union and pensioners’ rights lobby, which is challenging Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s unilateral decision to withhold publication of inflation figures in Zimbabwe.

This is after Justice Zisengwe heard arguments from lawyers representing the National Social Security Authority Workers Union (NSSAWU) and those representing Ncube and the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.

In court, Tendai Biti of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who represented NSSAWU and ZPIRT argued that Ncube’s decision was “irrational, grossly unreasonable, illegal, illegitimate and violates the principle of good governance and transparency provided for in the Constitution”.

Ncube in August 2019 announced the ban in the publication of annualised inflation figures to February 2020 and indicated that the National Statistical Agency will only publish month on month inflation figures.

However, NSSAWU and ZPIRT, which champions the rights of pension funds members and policyholders, petitioned the High Court seeking to set aside Ncube’s decision not to publish the inflation figures.

In the application filed by Biti, NSSAWU argued that as a trade union, it relies on annualised inflation figures to negotiate increases in its members’ salaries with its employers.

NSSAWU and ZPIRT argued that publication of annualised inflation figures is important in that inflation is an important variable in any economy and is a very destablising force which makes it necessary to keep track of its movement.

NSSAWU and ZPIRT said annualised inflation assists entrepreneurs in ascertaining real trends in production, sales, purchases, profits and other values.

When Ncube took over as Finance Minister in September 2018, Zimbabwe’s annualised inflation stood at 3%.

However, in July 2019, when government last published annualised inflation figures, the rate had risen to 175%, a figure which NSSAWU and ZPIRT argued Ncube was keen to “hide”.

In response to NSSAWU and ZPIRT’s application, Ncube, who was represented by Kenias Chimiti from the Attorney General’s Office defended his decision to impose a moratorium on the publication of annual inflation figures as justified following the change in currency regimes in Zimbabwe.