By Cloudine Matola
Zimbabwe’s huge national debt — which stood at US$17,6 billion as at December 31, 2018 and has shot up to US$18 billion — is largely a creation of bad governance, poor leadership and profligate spending, civil society commentators have said.
The country’s failure to service its debt has made it difficult to access fresh funding from international financial institutions.
At a High-Level Debt Conference organised by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) last week, the organisation’s executive director, Janet Zhou, said corruption and elite enrichment are among the factors contributing to the debt crisis. She said the absence of a debt sustainability plan is resulting in the spiralling of the national debt.
Zhou said in an environment bereft of transparency, citizen participation and accountability, it is difficult for the public to know the lending and borrowing decisions of the government.
The executive director of the UHAI Africa Group, Brian Kogoro, said in order for the nation to be able to pay the national debt, there is a need for the government to live within its means.
“We are living way beyond our means, it was good to be ‘chefs’ in the 1980s where money was endless. We learnt habits of leadership and chef-doms where there are big motorcades, cars, trips and delegations but we no longer have the resources,” Kagoro said.
He said the government of Zimbabwe is too big and there is over-employment in non-core areas while there is under-employment in critical sectors. The country, Kagoro pointed out, has more police officers and soldiers than doctors and teachers.
Kagoro said the government is failing to fight corruption, which is contributing to the non-payment of the national debt.
“These days in government if you are accused of corruption in one department you are transferred to the other department elsewhere or to the party. Nobody investigates, nobody takes it to anti-corruption but if you were an opponent you will be prosecuted,” he said.
Zhou said the country should conduct an official audit to ascertain the validity and legitimacy of all debts.
Such an audit, she said, should show the country’s total debt stock which dates back to pre-independence days and the all the reasons for the borrowings.
“We are calling for an official debt audit so as to come up with a true picture of the debt stock and to know who is owed and how much is owed. The audit should consider all relevant legal, political and economic factors which have led to the accumulation of the illegitimate and odious debt in this country,” she said.
She said the government should address the challenges of debt repayment in order to prevent future indebtedness. Structural, political and inclusive macro-economic policies should be implemented as part of a sustainable and inclusive debt management strategy.”