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Biti: South Africa Approves $100 Million Zimbabwe Loan

Finance Minister Tendai Biti
Finance Minister Tendai Biti today said he was hopeful South Africa will approve a $100 million loan in budgetary support to cash-strapped Zimbabwe ahead of crucial elections expected sometime this year. as the country’s leadership finally agreed to allow into Harare a United Nations election assessment team that has been stranded in Johannesburg since last week.

Mr. Biti told journalists in Harare that South Africa has approved $100 million in budgetary support to help Harare plug a gap in its finances ahead of crucial elections expected sometime this year.

Harare approached South Africa and oil-rich Angola for $150 million last year as aid from western nations remained low.

Biti said he was aware the South African cabinet had made what he said was a positive decision following his request.

But Reuters news agency quoted a South African treasury spokeswoman refusing to comment on Biti’s statement, saying the two governments were "engaged in ongoing discussions" about the loan.

Biti said he had also made an additional plea to South Africa and Angola to fund elections expected later this year, adding the government had borrowed $40 million domestically to fund a March 16 constitutional referendum.

On the UN elections assessment team, Biti said Harare has now cleared the group, which has been stuck in South Africa since Wednesday, adding unity government principals, in their usual Monday meeting, were expected to agree on whether or not the team would be allowed to meet with civil society leaders.

Mr. Biti said the mission will meet several government ministers, including himself and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Co-Home Affairs ministers, Regional Integration and Co-operation Minister, the prime minister, officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Registrar-General, among others.

This follows a request last month by the cash-strapped Harare to the UN for financial assistance by the government to run crucial elections that will end the shaky government of national unity.

While they requested $250 million for elections, the cost has now been reduced to $132 million and could be further reduced as some of the equipment used during the referendum will be utilised in the general elections.

Mr. Biti said if diamonds from the controversial Marange diamond fields were sold transparently and honestly, Zimbabwe would not be asking for international assistance.
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Biti told the media it is important for South Africa in particular to assist Zimbabwe in this crucial hour.

Speaking about the country’s food situation, Biti said the government will provide $5 million for grain imports, adding it has already issued import permits to the private sector to augment government imports.

He said government he will make a consolidated appeal for grain to the World Food Programme to ensure that no-one dies of hunger.

Mr. Biti said the economy is generally not doing well. He said in the first quarter Harare realised $765 million in taxes against an 8$25 million target.

He said the country continues to rely heavily on imports with exports continuing to decrease. During the first quarter exports stood at $700 million while imports were $1.7 billion.

Reached for comment, political commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said political funding for elections from outside sources is likely to come with strings attached, which all political parties within the unity government should be prepared to accept.
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