Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said Movement for Democratic Change vice-president Tendai Biti, a former finance minister, was being schizophrenic when he asked why the government had agreed to pay US$3.5 billion compensation to white farmers whose land was taken over during the land reform programme.
Speaking during the debate on the finance bill which sought o effect fiscal measures Ncube announced in his mid-term review in July, Biti said he did not understand why Zimbabwe had agreed to compensate former farmers when Ncube had said they had no money to pay the country’s external debt.
“Madam Speaker, I asked the Minister in my contribution to his Second Reading that he revisits the issue of debt in this economy. Debt is put in a premium. His response was I cannot pay the US$1.2 billion which we owe to the World Bank, the US$500 million or so which we owe to the African Development Bank when there is poverty,” Biti said on Wednesday.
“Fair enough, I like that answer because I used to say so, but why then sign a US$3.5 billion compensation agreement to give money to world-wide people when we have not sorted the poverty in this country? It is a contradiction. It does not work, it will not work.”
Ncube said Biti was schizophrenic because he had already approved the compensation of former farmers.
“I think he is likely schizophrenic. He has already approved like all of us, that we compensate farmers in the last few years and we have been doing that,” Ncube responded.
“Every year we appropriate out of this House an amount for payment of farmers. So, in this current budget for 2020, it was just about 300 million. The previous year, it was 70 million and it has been going on for years.
“So, all we did this time around was just to quantify what the size of this bill is. Previously, we did not know. We were just paying, we were not even sure how deep this hole was, we had no idea but now we know. That is what we have been searching for all these years. We have finally found the answer and with this 3.5 billion dollars.”
Some opposition and civil rights activists have claimed that the compensation is a reversal of the land reform programme but the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and war veterans have been all out to explain to the people that it is not.
It is just the fulfillment of a constitutional provision that was agreed by every Zimbabwean when they voted for the new constitution in 2013.
“For us to get to this figure, we followed the law; we complied with the law and the appropriations that have been happening year to year to compensate the farmers are in line with the law,” Ncube said.
“Madam Speaker, this is in Section 295 of the Constitution and Section 72 of the Constitution which speaks to the right on the land by indigenous Zimbabweans. It also speaks of the need to compensate the farmers for improvements on the land. That is clearly spelt out in the Constitution but I must say that this House has been paying farmers already. All we did now was to quantify the size of the liability – that is all.”