Finance Minister Tendai Biti has responded to a rowdy mob of Zanu PF activists claiming to be war veterans and who have been demonstrating at his offices in Harare since the beginning of the week demanding increased pensions.
Addressing reporters at the MDC-T offices Biti said he would not cave into the demands saying “I hope the president (Mugabe) and the prime minister (Tsvangirai) can deal this matter with the urgency it deserves.”
The MDC-T Secretary General said although the veterans’ welfare is a government concern, treasury does not have the money to meet their demands. With the war vets demanding Biti’s resignation for ‘incompetence’ he said;
“Will we resign?’ — that will not happen. We will not bow down to predatoriness. So they are literally, literally knocking on the wrong door.”
Biti has in the past laid the blame on murky diamond mining operations around the country in which Zanu PF, police, army and CIO bosses are looting the resource and not remitting anything to treasury.
Biti said the latest demonstrations, for the 12th time this year were politically motivated, were aimed at scoring cheap political goals.
He said it is unfortunate that government business in four ministries, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary education and the Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion was affected as government employees were unable to discharge their duties as all entrances were barricaded by war veterans.
“This is the most critical period for my ministry and it is regrettable that our work is being disrupted. As from 1 October, we were supposed to start budget consultations but we are unable to do so due to these insurrections,” he said.
Biti castigated the police for failing to provide security for hundreds of civil servants who were locked inside their offices by the war veterans till late into the night.
“It is not fair more so, for civil servants who have to fight their way out of the offices. Pregnant employees were not spared and some had to fork out money from their hard earned salaries to pay for taxis home as they missed government buses. It is unfortunate that war veterans can invade government offices. This represents the highest low point in the lifespan of the Global political agreement”.
“If it is a political fight, use politicians not civil servants,” said Biti vowing he will never resign as Finance Minister.
Up to Wednesday afternoon, the war veterans had not yet made any indications of meeting with the minister. “I have never refused to see them and actually the last time I met them they had 11 demands that they wanted me to address.”
“The demands among other issues were; the welfare of the war veterans, purchase of vehicles for chiefs, awarding a minimum living allowance for the war veterans, concerns over the disbanding of Zanu PF’s district coordinating committees (DCCs), disunity in the inclusive government, abuse of war veterans by Zanu PF, accountability over diamond proceeds and the widening gap between the rich and poor.”
Biti said on the welfare of the war veterans, his ministry had disbursed US$6, 2 million for paying school fees for their children and funeral allowances. On vehicles for chiefs, the ministry was liaising with the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development to see how best the chiefs can get new vehicles.
“However, I cannot discuss with them the disbanding of DCCs because I am not a Zanu PF member. On the increase of allowances, I cannot do anything as there is the War Veterans’ Act, which stipulates how much they should be paid. For the Act to be changed it must first go through Cabinet and I cannot do it alone,” said Biti.
On the non-remittance of diamond proceeds to the Treasury, the Minister in his last meeting with the war veterans informed them that they should approach Obert Mpofu, the Minister of Mines and Mining Development as he was responsible with what was happening in Chiadzwa.
“There is no super minister in government who can change laws. Laws have to be changed by Parliament and Cabinet. These attacks are political and also meant to emasculate the person of the minister and are a breach of the GPA,” said Biti.
Biti said his ministry had worked hard to resuscitate the country’s economy inherited under hyper- inflation where there was no food in supermarkets, and has restored fiscal discipline to the chagrin of certain sectors.
He said his ministry is not afraid of anyone and will stand firm to ensure that fiscal discipline is adhered to in a principled and fair manner.
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