Specialists in debt management, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt Development (ZIMCODD), have urged journalists to hold the government accountable over public debt.
This came out at a media training conducted recently to inform media practitioners on the implications of public and publicly guaranteed debt on human rights, poverty, inequality and macroeconomic performance.
Speaking at a media training workshop they organised, ZIMCODD Executive Director Janet Zhou, said the exponential rise in domestic debt was worrisome more so as much of it was shrouded in clandestineness.
“We have a national debt stock close to USD18 billion comprised of both domestic and external debt. Worrisome is the exponential rise in domestic debt within a short space of time raising a key question on debt transparency. (The government acquired about 6 billion United States dollars domestic debt in about four years). Despite the intensity of the public debt crisis in the country, there is a gap in public debt reporting by both state owned and private media.
“Members of the fourth estate (media) in Zimbabwe are not sufficiently conversant with public debt issues in the country and as a result they won’t be in position to inform citizens on public debt contraction processes as well as calling for transparency and accountability in the sector,” she said.
She said Zimbabwe since the country was dogged by high unemployment rate, graft, failing health sector among many ills, there was therefore need for robust media coverage as watchdog for the debt obtained by the government.
“If we were to conduct a survey, very few journalists would be able to establish the nexus between Zimbabwe debt and public service delivery in the country. Senior doctors highlighted how people are dying from treatable diseases at public hospitals owing to the shortage of basic medical drugs such as paracetamol and equipment like syringes. However, there were no media reports to link the rot in the public health system to debt crisis in the (country),” she said.
Speaking at the same occasion, socio-economic analyst at ZIMCODD Tafadzwa Chikumbu said when borrowing the Finance Minister must follow the law to the letter.
“When acquiring debt, the Finance Minister is guided by the Public Debt Management Act. Section 11 of the Act gives guidance to circumstances when the minister may borrow money. These include to finance national priority infrastructure and productive sector projects with high economic and social impact, to finance government deficits, to honour obligations arising under government guarantees, replenish international reserves, to fulfil any other purpose as the National Assembly may by resolution approve among other reasons,” said Chikumbu.
He said any violation of the law may see the debt being precluded as illicit or abhorrent.
“Section 12 and 13 of the same law provides basis upon which the debt may be cancelled as illegitimate or odious. Illegitimate when its authorisation and contraction process violated the laws of either of the creditor or debtor countries. These will form the basis upon which the debt will be assessed in terms of its legitimacy. It (debt) will be considered illegitimate if it was contracted outside the confines of the stipulated provisions. Odious, these are loans that did not benefit the people or were used to suppress the citizens,” explained the expert.