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Zimbabwe Finance Minister Asks President Mugabe to Stop Bank Indigenization

ZANU-PF sources supporting FM Biti and CB Governor Gono say some of the party hardliners demanding shares in banks are the same people who borrowed millions in loans from state banks and never repaid them

Zimbabwean Minister of Indigenization Saviour Kasukuwere has demanded that Finance Minister Tendai Biti sign off on the indigenization of foreign banks, leading Biti to join forces with Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono to call on President Robert Mugabe to bar the move, which they say would jeopardize a fragile economic recovery.

In a recent letter to Mr. Mugabe, Biti and Gono argued that nationalizing foreign banks could destabilize the financial sector and the economy, adding black Zimbabweans who wish to be players in the sector can apply for new banking licenses.

ZANU-PF sources told VOA they support Biti and Gono's position. They said that some party hardliners demanding shares in banks are the same people who looted Agribank and the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe by borrowing millions in loans never repaid.

Foreign-owned banks targeted for indigenization are Barclays Bank, Standard Bank, Stanbic Bank and Standard Chartered Bank, which together account for a 70%-plus market share. Many indigenous-run banks are under pressure these days.

Biti told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that he will resist moves to indigenize banks."Banks that have really been performing well are foreign owned; so it would be very unfair if we were to target them and disturb the banking sector," he said.

But Kasukuwere vowed he will continue pushing for the indigenization program to extend to the financial sector. "This is the law of the land," he said.

Economist James Wade said Kasukuwere should move cautiously on the banks.