By Gift Phiri
HARARE – Two senior cabinet ministers locked horns in angry scenes on Thursday, that were witnessed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, over burgeoning demands for more defence funding.
Informed official sources said Tsvangirai, who chairs the Council of Ministers, watched in bewilderment as the two went for each other hammer and tong, with finance minister Tendai Biti allegedly being threatened by defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa after he turned down the Zanu PF minister’s vociferous demands for an additional $2,5million from the fiscus to bankroll salaries for 5 000 new army recruits.
The Council of Ministers is a body of Zimbabwean government ministers conceptualised as a separate body from the cabinet as per the dictates of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
While Cabinet is chaired by the President and is a decision-making body, the Council of Ministers is headed by Tsvangirai and is a liaison office tasked with the formulation of policies, implementation of cabinet policies and the supervision of government ministries.
The Daily News on Sunday heard from two impecabble sources that tensions ran very high as partisan political warfare exploded at Munhumutapa Building — the citadel of government power, with Mnangagwa allegedly threatening to send army generals to Biti’s office.
The sources said Mnangagwa reportedly told the Council of Ministers he had to restrain angry generals from going to confront Biti at his New Government Complex offices because soldiers were going dangerously hungry in cantonment areas around the country and as a result the commanders were at risk.
“Ngwena was really upset, he was fuming,” said one source. The Defence minister, who is also Chirimanzu-Zibagwe MP, pooh poohed Biti’s military spending as endangering Zimbabwe’s security. Mnangagwa was not immediately available for comment yesterday.
Biti declined to comment on the heated confrontation, choosing to say: “We had a discussion with the minister of defence after the Council of Ministers and we have come to an understanding”.
Biti was said to have stuck to his guns, rejecting Mnangagwa’s controversial request, a move that provoked the no-holds-barred exchange that ended with the intervention of minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jameson Timba, who managed to quell the boiling temperatures.
Biti is said to have torn into Mnangagwa’s policy of recruiting more soldiers when finances were tight. Biti also allegedly drew Mnangagwa’s attention to a parliamentary debate raised by Magwegwe MDC MP Felix Magalela-Sibanda on why the army was recruiting villagers without Ordinary Level qualifications.
Mnangagwa admitted in the House of Assembly on Wednesday that the army was recruiting privates with substandard entry qualifications because “we unfortunately find it difficult sometimes to secure enrolment in some parts of the country because most of the young persons with qualifications have gone out of the country.”
“In those circumstances, in order to keep a balance we may grant exceptions,” he said then. Biti was said to have declared that treasury would not fund Mnangagwa’s unqualified recruits, until the government got more cash from diamonds.
The Daily News on Sunday heard that temperatures rose even higher when Mnangagwa said there was a risk of mutiny and that Biti was compromising State security.
“He (Mnangagwa) said rations were dwindling,” said another of the sources. Biti reportedly insisted that he would not bankroll the 5 000 new recruits from the fiscus at a time when cash promised from diamonds was not forthcoming. The ZNA currently has an active duty- strength of 30 000.
Mnangagwa reportedly exploded saying he had been forced to move money from other areas to boost the food budget. But a recalcitrant Biti lamented the woeful diamonds cash trickling into Treasury from Chinese firm Anjin, which has partnered with government to mine for diamonds in Marange.
Biti reportedly warned that government actually risked failing to pay July salaries for civil servants if treasury continued receiving the pittance that was currently trickling in from Marange diamonds.
Biti’s $4 billion budget for 2012 is secured by an anticipated $600 million from the alluvial Marange fields, where the government has a 50 percent shareholding in four of the five mines currently operating there.
Matters apparently worsened when Finance minister allegedly suggested that Mnangagwa pays the recruits from cash that was being stolen from Anjin, which he said had not been contributing anything to the fiscus. The Zimbabwean members of Anjin’s executive board are senior serving and retired military and police officers.
Anjin’s executive board includes Martin Rushwaya, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Defence; Oliver Chibage, a commissioner in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP); Nonkosi Ncube, a commissioner in the ZRP; Munyaradzi Machacha, a Zanu PF director of publications; and Mabasa Temba Hawadi, a director of Marange Resources (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of the ZMDC.
Non-executive board members are Morris Masunungure, a retired officer in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) and Romeo Daniel Mutsvunguma, a retired colonel. Anjin’s principal officer and company secretary is Brigadier Charles Tarumbwa.
Biti said diamonds had in the first quarter of this year only provided $30,5 million from projected inflows of $123 million, leaving a budget deficit of over $96 million in the first quarter of this year alone. Daily News
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