Zimbabwe has only $217 in the bank, says finance minister By KITSEPILE NYATHI in Harare | Wednesday, January 30   2013 at  10:43

Zimbabwe Finance minister Tendai Biti
Zimbabwe Finance minister Tendai Biti says the government is all but broke. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

Zimbabwe's public account balance after paying its workers' salaries last week now stands at just $217, Finance minister Tendai Biti has revealed.

"Government finances are in a paralytic state - last week there was only $217 left in government coffers when we paid civil servants,” he told journalists in Harare Wednesday .

Mr Biti later said that some $30m of revenue had been paid in, and that he had made the revelation to show that Harare was incapable of funding upcoming elections.

Mr Biti said that President Robert Mugabe had since ordered him to approach international donors to fund forthcoming elections and a referendum on a new constitution.

"President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have written to my ministry and the ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs to ask us to raise money for elections."

The southern African country needs about $85 million to hold the referendum set for sometime in March.

Another $107 million would be needed to organise general elections expected around June to end a fragile unity government.

"We will ensure the money we budgeted for elections in 2013 will go towards this," Mr Biti, a member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC side of the coalition, said.

"We have appealed to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to ensure their budgets are also realistic."

President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party has in the past objected to United Nations funding for the country’s constitution-making process, saying his Western foes would try to influence the exercise.

Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa said they will insist that the donations are channelled through Treasury.

Still recovering

"We have to have mechanisms that protect and sanitise our process from donor influence,” he said.

"It is a principle that no cooperating partner, through charity, should influence our process. Essentially, as Zanu PF, we have no objection if that money comes through Treasury.

“We will [however] object any assistance that is poured directly to institutions that directly run the electoral process.”

Zimbabwe’s economy is still recovering from a decade of decline due to political infighting and the seizure of white-owned farms that begun in 2000, weakening what had been a vibrant agriculture-based economy.

Tourism was also hit, production pulled back while investors all but bailed out on the south African country as international sanctions swiftly followed.

Hyperinflation at one point in 2008 reached 231 million per cent and the government had to print $100 billion and $100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar bank notes.

The current coalition government formed in 2009 was forced to abandon the local currency to adopt the United States dollar. It also uses the South African rand.

Things have since stabilised but public finances remain weak. The country’s mining sector is booming with diamond exports expected to exceed $1 billion this year though allegations remain that some government officials are skimming off proceeds from the industry.

The government's national budget for this year is $3.8 billion, with the economy projected to grow at 5 per cent.