Zimbabwe Finance Minister, Tendai Biti Freezes Government Payments to Part-Pay Elections By Violet Gonda

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has described the funding situation for upcoming elections in Zimbabwe as a 'nightmare and like watching a horror movie' and the cash strapped authorities have been forced to stop all government payments in order to fundraise for elections due on July 31st.

"I am now definitely sounding like a broken record … and what we have done as ministry is basically to freeze government. We are not paying ministries. We are not paying service providers in order to do what we are doing. We can't pay for anything other than salaries," Biti told SW Radio Africa on Monday.

Reports say $132 million is needed for the electoral process, but Biti said so far he has only managed to release $14million to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for things like the printing of ballot papers and the purchase of indelible ink.

He said part of that money will be used for the special voting of the uniformed forces that is set for 14th and 15th July.

The minister said President Robert Mugabe should intervene if the country is to successfully hold harmonized elections that include council, parliamentary and presidential elections in three weeks time.

"President Mugabe needs to come on board because we have the issue of diamonds and everybody knows that (Mines Minister) Obert Mpofu's mining houses are not submitting a single cent to our coffers.

"There is that man called (Justice Minister) Patrick Chinamasa. He is frustrating all my efforts to get money from the international community – whether it's the UN, whether it's international donors. Now they are at war with SADC. So the whole thing is an undiluted dog's breakfast."

Biti said he had written to the regional body and SADC executive Secretary Tomaz Salomão said he would go around the region looking for funding for Zimbabwe's elections, but there has been no feedback so far.

The Finance Minister said it is very difficult to go to the region with a begging bowl when Mugabe continues to insult them at the same time.

Last Friday Mugabe warned he would withdraw from SADC if the region 'decides to do stupid things' in connection with the country's polls. He lashed out at President Jacob Zuma's advisor, Lindiwe Zulu, describing her as an idiotic and stupid little woman for reportedly calling for an election delay to allow the implementation of reforms.

Biti said Mugabe's comments were "brazenly sexist" and totally unacceptable, especially as it was directed at a diplomat. "It's an act of aggression at international law when you attack the office of the Head of State of another country."

We could not reach Zulu for comment, but Biti said there is no party that develops in isolation and his party will ensure that Zimbabwe remains a full member of the regional bloc, including mending relations with the Commonwealth and other international bodies.

The minister also said that Zimbabwe is lagging behind while many countries in SADC are adhering to international standards of conducting elections.

"International standards means you invite observers from anywhere in the world; the voters roll is open to everyone and everyone can scrutinise it; there are no funny things like special voting; the media is accessible to everyone and no Army General will utter a statement that 'I will not salute x,y,z'." Biti pointed out that these are some of the issues that makes Zimbabwe a laughing stock in the region.

Meanwhile, ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau confirmed to reporters that the government had released US$11 million for the special voting for the uniformed forces, election officials and the postal voting for those working at Zimbabwe's embassies.

Makarau said the 30 day voter registration and voters roll inspection that started last month will end Wednesday and anyone who registers after this deadline will not be able to vote, although their names will be added to the voters roll for future elections.

The electoral body has come under fire for failing to make information available to the general public. Civic leader Mike Davies said it's 'shocking' that ZEC has not yet published the names of the candidates, 22 days before the harmonized polls.

"The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is a tax funded body responsible for running elections. Additionally it is supposed keep 'the public informed about… political parties and candidates contesting every election' yet 10 days after the nomination courts; there are still no official lists of candidates and the relevant ZEC website pages merely say:

"Contesting Parties – COMING SOON, Election Calendar – COMING SOON, Registration Statistics – COMING SOON and the Facebook page is derisory," Davies said.