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Zimbabweans Abroad Divide on Proposal to Levy Reconstruction Tax on Expatriates

An independent report launched last week in England by Finance Minister Tendai Biti suggests levying a tax on Zimbabwean expatriates to help fund national reconstruction while allowing them to cast absentee ballots

An independent study of Zimbabwean reconstruction launched last week at a conference in England by Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti calls on the millions-strong Zimbabwean diaspora to support reconstruction by providing investment capital and even paying an expatriate tax in return for reforms allowiung them to cast absentee ballots and hold dual citizenship.

Some initial reactions were hostile, but others liked the potential trade-off.

Prepared by the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester, England, and introduced by Biti at a university conference, is entitled, "Moving forward in Zimbabwe - Reducing Poverty and Promoting Growth."

The report says "migrants need to feel that the inclusive government values them as citizens and does not view them as having divided loyalties. Confidence-boosting measures would include allowing dual nationality, restoring voting rights for migrants who hold Zimbabwean citizenship and creating mechanisms for them to be heard. In exchange, migrants should be prepared to pay an annual tax for retaining Zimbabwean nationality. Clearly this would be controversial but it could be a way for migrants to contribute directly to the state budget."

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai meanwhile has repeated his call to exiled Zimbabweans to come home with their much-needed skills and savings.

When Mr. Tsvangirai preached this message to expatriates in London last June he drew catcalls. But diaspora members were more receptive last week when he renewed his call for large-scale repatriation to a Cape Town audience.

For a closer look at diaspora opinion, VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to two prominent Zimbabwean expatriates: Ephraim Tapa, president of the U.K. chapter of Restoration of Human Rights, and Zimbabwe Exiles Forum Executive Director Gabriel Shumba in Pretoria.

Shumba says the proposal to give Zimbabweans abroad voting rights and dual citizenship is welcome - but demanding taxes in return amounts to extortion.

Note: This report incorporates a clarification that the tax proposal was not made by Finance Minister Tendai Biti, but was contained in a report prepared by the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester, England, and introduced by Biti at a conference there.