Government says it is down to its last US$217

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 4:39am


Two hundred and seventeen US dollars. That is all that remains in the public account of the Zimbabwean government, a bewildered finance minister has announced.

The paltry amount cast doubt over claims of a slow economic recovery and raised fresh questions about the fate of the country's diamond revenues - officials say almost US$685 million worth were sold last year.

"Last week when we paid civil servants there was US$217 [left] in government coffers," Tendai Biti, the finance minster, told journalists in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday, noting that some of them have healthier bank balances than the state.

"The government finances are in a paralysis state at the present moment. We are failing to meet our targets."

Zimbabwe's elections agency has said it needs US$104 millon to organise polls this year. Biti added: "The government has no money for elections ... We will be approaching the international community to assist us in this regard, but it's important that government should also do something."

The UN has said Zimbabwe, which no longer has its own currency, will require at least US$131 million in aid this year, the bulk for food assistance after a failed farming season left nearly 1.7 million people facing hunger.

"There have been some assertions that the economy is getting better but as ordinary people we have not been seeing it," said McDonald Lewanika, director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

"Without foreign direct investment and with some companies leaving because of uncertainty, I wonder where these assertions come from."