By Ndamu Sandu and Nunurai Jena
FINANCE minister, Tendai Biti, has accused a small coterie of powerful Zimbabweans of looting diamonds from Marange, enabling themselves to splash millions of dollars on private jets while ordinary people wallowed in abject poverty.
Addressing delegates at a diamond workshop in Harare last week, Biti said the officials were not afraid of flaunting their ill-gotten riches.
“There is no doubt that a small coterie of individuals is benefitting from Zimbabwe diamonds. Some of us (officials) who are benefiting, are not afraid to flaunt our monies. We are buying all kinds of assets,” said Biti.
“I am a government minister and earning US$800. How do I buy some of the assets that we are buying? People are now buying private jets because of our diamonds.”
Biti made similar remarks last week while addressing delegates at the Open Society Forum Conference on corruption and politics in Cape Town, South Africa, where he accused President Robert Mugabe of allowing his cronies in Zanu PF to plunder diamonds in Marange fields in return for their continued political support.
But the former ruling party has denied the allegations. Biti, who is MDC-T secretary general, likened the level of corruption in diamond dealings in Zimbabwe to that of the Democratic Republic of Congo during Mobuto Sese Seko’s era.
He said the country was now behaving like a monarch or colonial governments which used to dish out licences and other privileges without considering issues to do with accountability and transparency.
“You see what I would call predatory accumulation; we see it in the likes of Mobuto Sese Seko, Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d’Ivoire), and Siad Bare (Somalia),” he said.
Biti’s remarks, which are likely to create a storm in the inclusive government, come at a time diamonds have been underperforming in terms of revenue contribution to Treasury. Diamond revenue is expected to contribute US$600 million to the national budget.
Zanu PF spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo, dismissed allegations that Mugabe’s cronies were looting diamonds. He challenged the finance minister to bring forward evidence of the corruption. “Biti should come clean,” said Gumbo. “He must not just speculate. If he has evidence, I challenge him to name the Zanu PF officials benefiting from Marange diamonds.”
Biti’s remarks, the first by a cabinet minister, confirm the allegations raised by civil society organisations that senior civil servants have been amassing wealth from the gems.
Civil society organisations have been advocating for transparency in the mining and selling of Marange diamonds under the “Publish what you pay” campaign, to force companies to be transparent. They said government had to be open on the shareholders of the diamond mines, amid allegations that soldiers were mining in Marange.
Biti proposed far-reaching reforms that include the removal of diamonds from the wings of Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), to a new entity. He said, once that was in place, the country would be able to negotiate for the removal of economic sanctions imposed by the United States on Mbada and Marange Resources last year. Zimbabwe Standard