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Biti slams 'amateurish' accounting

Former finance minister Tendai Biti said the omission of Chinese development assistance in the 2020 budget statement was "amateurish" after China made a strong protest on Tuesday.

The Chinese embassy in Harare said its bilateral support to Zimbabwe had been understated by some US$133 million by Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube in his November 14 budget.

Ncube said Zimbabwe received US$194 million from bilateral donors between January and September, the bulk of the money from Western countries.

Of that, he said China provided US$3.6 million, a figure that was criticised as paltry by opponents of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government, which considers Beijing an "all-weather friend".

The embassy, in a statement titled, 'Figures of China's bilateral support to Zimbabwe shall be revisited,' it said: "The embassy wishes that the relevant departments of the Zimbabwean government will make comprehensive assessments on the statistics of bilateral supports and accurately reflect its actual situation when formulating budget statement."

The information ministry later released a statement noting the Chinese protest, before adding: "Necessary consultations are underway to establish a common accounting position. We thank the Chinese government for their support."

The embassy then took to Twitter and stated: "Our understanding is bilateral development support shall include cash aid (humanitarian emergency assistance for disaster relief), material aid (donation of rice, medical and agricultural equipment) and funds for major bilateral cooperation projects released by stages."

Chinese deputy ambassador Zhao Baogang quoted that tweet, stating: "This is development support."

Turning up the heat, the Chinese ambassador Guo Shaochun also quoted the same tweet and tagged the finance minister Ncube and government spokesman Nick Mangwana, stating: "The accounting method is important and kindly suggest a commonly accepted way."

Biti said the controversy was embarrassing.

"The omission of Chinese development assistance in the budget is amateurish and reflective of the fact that under Emmerson Mnangagwa, mediocrity is the new normal. The same budget also omits Chinese loans to Zimbabwe and understates figures of external sovereign debt. The regime has been cooking the books," Biti said on Twitter.

Zimbabwe faces its worst economic crisis in a decade, which has been exacerbated by a severe drought. Rolling power cuts and shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines have made life unbearable for the population of 15 million.

In the absence of funding from lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, China has over the years become a major financier of projects in Zimbabwe, including water and power, through the China Export and Import Bank.

In a country where authorities have a history of quietly racking up foreign debt without the approval of parliament, the funding discrepancy has led to questions from the government's critics as to whether it is hiding figures or it has just made an accounting error.

Zimbabwe does not receive budget support from foreign lenders or donors after defaulting on its debt of more than US$9 billion. It relies on taxes to fund the entire budget.

Western countries, however, still provide funding to Zimbabwe through charities.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

Chuka is an experienced certified web developer with an extensive background in computer science and 18+ years in web design &development. His previous experience ranges from redesigning existing website to solving complex technical problems with object-oriented programming. Very experienced with Microsoft SQL Server, PHP and advanced JavaScript. He loves to travel and watch movies.

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