By Joel Mandaza
The government of Zimbabwe recently acted in an unprecedented manner when it published details of the two loans it acquired from its regular lender the Afrexim Bank.
After years of relentless pressure, which saw Harare North Parliamentarian Allan Markham and Community Water Alliance taking the government to court to compel them to publish loans taken by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe from regular lender Afrexim bank.
There were fears that the administration, whose international goodwill has remained weak even after pouring money into a re-engagement agenda, would be getting money from Afrexim bank and other lenders through obscene terms.
The gazette revealed that Zimbabwe borrowed US$600 million from the African Export-Import Bank in December 2017 and another for US$300 in December 2019.
At a time when the executive sometimes ignores court orders, it was encouraging to see a compliance to a court ruling for a chance.
It gave a resemblance of transparency from an otherwise secretive administration.
Perhaps in future, the government should save its citizens time and money lost in mounting these court challenges by just following the constitution.
Section 300(3) of the supreme law is very clear it says; “Within sixty days after the government has concluded a loan agreement or guarantee, the Minister responsible for finance must cause its terms to be published in the Gazette.”
Under the same section, the Minister is expected to report back to Parliament two times every year, speaking on the performances of the said loans.
The law is applied in combination with Section 18(2) of the Public Debt Management Act which says within sixty days after the government has concluded a loan or guarantee agreement, the Minister must cause its terms to be published by notice in the Gazette.
While the law is good, there is a need for it to be applied in a forward looking manner.
Section 36(4) of the Public Debt Management Act says the Minister shall ensure that all external loans contracted under this Act will be subject to ratification by Parliament in accordance with the Constitution.
This means that Parliament should not have to beg the executive to reveal details of loans, the proper procedure is that Parliament should give consent to every dollar that is borrowed by the country after the Minister of Finance and Economic Development justifies the need.
This is not what has been happening, and the administration continues to enter into questionable debts whose effects are not being seen properly.
Parliament needs to take back its power as the custodian of all public spending, there has to be representative consensus in the manner that these financial obligations are entered into.
Besides being a legal requirement, it is also a moral requirement for those who are representing the people in the arms of governance to ensure that public spending and debts are subjected to measures of merit.
The executive does not have a monopoly of national priorities.
Without being ageist, the relevance of the leaders` age in reading the context in which these decisions are made cannot be wished away.
We cannot have a situation in which men in their 70s are committing loans that have a repayment tenure of as long as forty years.
This means the loans will obviously be paid by generations that are not involved in the decision making and are unlikely to feel the positive impact from all that borrowing.
As it stands, Parliament is being made complicit to the generational betrayal being committed by the national leadership.
Parliament is made to approve budgets which include the repayment of debts whose accumulation happens beyond their reach.
Other legislators should be inspired by Honourable Markham who out of his personal volition decided to pursue the matter, he should not be isolated in the fight.
Even those aligned to Zanu PF, with its two-thirds majority should learn to question their own party.
It is counter-productive to ululate for the executive as it sinks the country deeper in debt, simply because those leading are from one’s party.
The oath of office they took when being sworn requires loyalty to country before loyalty to party.
Another reason why Parliament should discuss debt beforehand, Minister Ncube, in the government gazette said the money had been used to procure strategic commodities but did not share with specificity, what the strategic commodities are.
If whatever they bought warranted borrowing US$900 million then it should not be difficult to disclose to the country.
His insistence on being secretive betrays a possibility that the money may have been used for purposes that do not benefit the country, there is still need for Parliament to probe on the specific ways in which money was utilized.
It is unfortunate that we do not have an executive which believes in open governance and in such circumstances parliament has to work harder to uphold its oversight relevance.
Lest we are made to fund the excesses of the ruling class!