Tendai Biti Freezes Media Boss Out Of National Budget

Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe's Finance Minister, holds up the briefcase containing the 2010 National Budget last Wednesday at parliament. Biti is now being accused by ZANU PF of underfunding or denying funding to critical areas of reform, such as media. Mugabe's party has now found a new voice on sanctions, with the Zimbabwean dictator due to tell South African facilitators today that sanctions are the real reason why reform can not be implemented and that not even the MDC-T Minister of Finance, who should be funding these reforms, is also finding it tough-going with the "sanctions" in place.

Harare, Zimbabwe, 08 December 2009

The Finance Minister of Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, has frozen media hangman Tafataona Mahoso and his new Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe out of the National Budget, a revelation that also explains why Mugabe is now so virulently anti-Biti that he wants him reassigned or fired by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mahoso has requested US$156 000 but only got US$39 000 from Biti. The US$39 0000 is only for recurrent expenditure, with the Broadcasting Authority getting nothing for Capital Expenditure.

ZANU PF is, as a result, now telling parliament that there will be no funds for critical media reform initiatives provided for in the Global Political Agreement that made the Unity Government possible.

This is also contained in their report to the SADC facilitator, South African president Jacob Zuma. Mugabe 's party has categorically stated that they will not accept Zimbabwe government reforms that are funded by donors and foreign countries.

So, in other words, ZANU PF is using the lack of funds in the government to stall and stop critical reform. They did the same thing with the Land Audit, saying it needed US$300 million which they would only accept if it came through government and was not distributed through NGOs as proposed by those ready to fund the reforms.

Apart from that, it also appears Morgan Tsvangirai made a mistake when he agreed to the continuation of Transmedia, the government-owned company that has a monopoly on broadcasting infrastructure in Zimbabwe.

Parliament has now been told that this agency, Transmedia, was not given enough money by Biti to execute its mandate.Which means that even if the so-called "pirate radio stations" were to uproot from the foreign countries where they are based, they will not be able to broadcast here because Mugabe will still be saying that there is no capacity for new stations (especially TV stations, but also the radio stations) because of lack of funds.

Keen observers will see that this whole thing is being led back to the issue of sanctions by Mugabe. He is wriggling out of all his commitments in the GPA through this and SADC have already bought it, evidenced by the amount of regional leaders now publicly calling for "sanctions" to be lifted.

Mugabe is taking the route now of saying that he is not refusing to implement any of the things contained in the GPA and about which the MDC-T is unhappy. It is just that, because of sanctions, these things do not become a priority.

If money was to be given to Mugabe and the government, then that will be a whole different story...that is the line.

Even the vital Zimbabwe Media Commission, upon which publishers like Trevor Ncube of the Zimbabwe Independent are waiting for licences in order to bring out daily newspapers, is said to have been underfunded by 73%. As a result, it will not be able to be licenced by the under-resourced Commission.

It is a war of attrition: Tsvangirai and the MDC want the reforms in order to level the playing field, and Mugabe wants the money in order to strengthen his hand with a revived economy at the next elections.

Who will blink first?

Perhaps now you understand why the SADC leaders are always calling on sanctions to be lifted. They can not counter Mugabe's position on how they are affecting government capacity to deliver reforms. Wanting the process over and done with, they have no choice but to hopelessly call for the lifting of sanctions, lest they be seen to be coming down on the side of the MDC.

And Mugabe is pressing home the advantage. He will tell the South African Facilitation Team that is in Zimbabwe today (they are meeting Mugabe before flying out later in the afternoon), that it is an MDC-T minister who is in charge of the nation's finances, that he has clipped the wings of the Governor of the Central Bank, whom he did not trust, but that he is still not able to cater to the needs of government, thereby exposing the level to which "sanctions" affect Zimbabwe.

There has been no agreement on anything in the ongoing talks, with ZANU PF contradicting Prime Minister Tsvangirai's statement that there was progress. Patrick Chinamasa, Minister of Justice and ZANU PF negotiator, says that they will now be going to consult within their parties and get back together to compare notes.

The report that will be handed to Jacob Zuma this week contains nothing in the way of solutions, primarily because of the intractable issue of sanctions.

By the way, it is not only media reform which is suffering. Constitution-making is also a casualty of this stalemate, with progress on it proving to be akin to pulling teeth.

What we are seeing is simply Mugabe finally showing his true colours. He agreed to the Unity Government in order to get money into Zimbabwe. That was all. Now he realises that he gives the MDC all that it wants, there will be no incentive for Tsvangirai to get the sanctions and "restrictive measures" lifted.

He is fighting for his life on this, because the failure of the economy is his biggest enemy and he wants it slayed before any new election is called. If not, he considers the electoral playing field uneven, in the favour of the opposition and he would, therefore, fee justified in keeping in place measures that would also disadvantage the opposition locally, in order to balance things out for himself.

Despite the high-sounding optimism from online reports about Jacob Zuma taking a tougher stance on Zimbabwe, the reality is that he is in the same position as Thabo Mbeki, can not impose his will on Mugabe and, since SADC has accepted the issue of sanctions as a genuine grievance on Mugabe's part, they can not seek to ignore it while pushing for the other reforms.

Mugabe now has his plausible stock answer: There is no money for the reforms, the GPA says the priority is the economy.

Hence media reform and all the other reforms will have to wait.


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