By Staff Reporter
ZANU PF has dismissed as baseless, claims that some of its senior officials looted millions of United States dollars in public funds through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s farm mechanisation scheme over a decade ago.
This is after United Kingdom based lawyer and blogger, Alex Magaisa weekend published an article which detailed tens of thousands of dollars owed to the central bank by both serving and former ruling party officials who have been excused from repaying them.
Magaisa alleged party chefs, bureaucrats, military bosses, judges, State media journalists and clergymen took millions of dollars worth of agricultural equipment which they never repaid.
The loans were extended through the controversial Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) farm mechanisation scheme between 2007 and 2008. Gideon Gono was the apex bank’s governor at the time.
However, Zanu PF director of information Tafadzwa Mugwadi, in an interview with NewZimbabwe.com Sunday said the allegations were baseless claims aimed at whipping public emotions against the party ahead of the planned July 30 protests.
“It must be noted that this is another baseless and tired attempt to invoke public anger against the party and government by merchants of violence who are mooting a replay of August 1, 2018, on July 31. It will not work, simple,” Mugwadi said.
Despite Magaisa’s blog triggering fierce public outrage, the government has also not responded to the allegations, with the only attempt coming from the secretary in the Ministry of Information Nick Mangwana.
“The fight for public accountability should never be seen as a political tool. When lists of beneficiaries of State programmes are published with some names deliberately redacted, then the exposé betrays its nefarious intent. The act of redacting certain names in itself is corrupt,” Mangwana wrote on Twitter.
According to Magaisa, dozens of people, mainly Zanu PF top officials benefited from the programme and have not paid back, shifting the debt to the taxpayer.
The list includes President Emmerson Mnangagwa who received US$411,728 for his much-hyped Pricabe Farm in Kwekwe.
In response to Magaisa, Gono has also defended the programme claiming it was not a loan scheme and beneficiaries were not required to pay for the equipment they received.
However, the former central bank chief was caught in a web of lies with evidence surfacing of him saying the facility was a loan that had to be paid back by beneficiaries.
“I can state categorically that Dr Magaisa is offside and that no beneficiary of the Farm Mechanisation Programme ever refused to pay for the equipment that they got and neither were they asked to pay,” Gono said in a statement.
Curiously, a letter was written in 2011 by Gono to then Agriculture Minister Joseph Made confirming the facility was loan meant to be paid back.
“As you are aware, Honourable Minister, the Bank (RBZ) is owed a lot of money by beneficiaries of the Farm Mechanisation Programme. The board needs your advice on the way forward given the political nature of the circumstances surrounding this debt,” Gono was quoted in the letter.
Magaisa then asked rhetorically; “If these goods were free, why was it necessary to characterise them as debts owing from the beneficiaries?”
Gono also accused Magaisa of making unfounded, inaccurate and unfair conclusions in his article published Saturday.
But in a hard-hitting response to Gono Sunday, Magaisa produced several published articles that contradicted Gono’s claims that the scheme was not a loan that was meant to be paid back.
“The purpose of this statement was to bolster the view that the transactions were not loans but free hand-outs. However, this is inconsistent with the statement at the end of the article where Dr Gono is quoted as saying, ‘Both rural and non-rural farmers benefited from the takeover of the loans by the State’…,” the former adviser to the now late former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai argued.
“The adage that one cannot have his cake and eat it at the same time is apposite. One statement says it was not a loan, but the other says it was a loan taken over by the government. It can’t be both at the same time. It is these contradictions that give rise to opacity which fuels more speculation and suspicions,” Magaisa argued.
“Another fact that shows that these transactions were treated as loans is that all beneficiaries were given credit ratings. The highest credit rating, according to the scheme was A. An A credit-rating means the RBZ considered you as most able to repay, while a C credit rating was the lowest among beneficiaries,” Magaisa continued.
“Therefore, the fact that these transactions were initially framed as loans is evident from history. In the latest Sunday Mail article, Dr Gono says the position that no-one should repay ‘was arrived at after consultations with the government which took the decision and wrote to him that equipment given to farmers during that most trying period should not be regarded as a loan to anyone and therefore no payment was to be made by the beneficiaries of the programme.
“This means this was a position taken after the fact, and it is consistent with the view that the transactions were initially treated as loans before the government decided otherwise.”
Magaisa said it was even worse that Gono was seeking to treat the loans as “freebies” by the government at the expense of the taxpayer adding it was illogical that selected beneficiaries got machinery and equipment without signing any formal agreement imposing legal obligations upon them.
As the debate rages, former Masvingo Provincial Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti weighed into the saga saying it was a lie that beneficiaries were asked not to repay as he settled his as per requirement.
“Those who are saying Farm Mechanisation was for free are telling blatant lies. I paid ZW$10 billion for mine which was worked out as the USD equivalent then. Everyone has to pay. Corruption has to be exposed,” Bhasikiti said.
Temba Mliswa, independent Norton MP, who is also a beneficiary, defended the programme saying it was not different from land reform.
“This was a government agricultural empowerment programme, not a loan. That’s the basic that needs settling. Is it too simple for you to grasp? It was no different from the land reform programme. Government then assumed debt,” he said.