The Sunday News
Lincoln Towindo, Harare Bureau
ZIMBABWE’s commitment to mend diplomatic and political ties with the United Kingdom has attracted a growing constituency in the British legislature with some Parliamentarians asking the Conservative Government to soften its hard-line stance and extend a financial rescue package to Harare.
Further debate in the House of Lords also triggered sentiments that the Britain Government needed to reflect on the economic sanctions regime on Zimbabwe as it is hurting innocent people.
Liberal Democratic member Jonathan Oates, Baron Oates last week asked London to consider facilitating an international financial bailout package for Zimbabwe in return for enhanced economic and political reforms by Harare.
He also asked the British Government to weigh the option of collaborating with the European Union and the United States to tie up a financial package for Harare modelled along the post-World War II Marshal Plan.
The Marshal Plan, also known as the European Recovery Programme (ERP), was a US-funded reconstruction bailout handed to Western Europe following the World War 2 devastation.
A brainchild of then US Secretary of State George Marshall, after whom it was named, it provided more than US$15 billion to help finance rebuilding efforts in the EU. Authorities in Harare say they welcome such a package, as long as it does not compromise national interests.
Posing a question during last week’s Question and Answer session in the House of Lords, Lord Oates asked for a similar reconstruction programme for Zimbabwe, which is tied to specified reform criteria. Acknowledging the impact of climate change on Zimbabwe’s food security and general state of the economy, Lord Oates said London should consider facilitating a bailout for Zimbabwe.
“Will the Government, therefore, work with our European and other international partners to agree on an economic rescue package — a Marshall plan — that would be made available to any Zimbabwean Government who met specified criteria.”
Responding to the question, deputy leader of the House, Frederick Richard Penn Curzon — Lord Howe — also acknowledged the need for such a bailout.
“My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s long-standing and close interest in Zimbabwe and its people, and I agree that we must continue to give hope and encouragement to all those who want to see genuine political and economic change in Zimbabwe.”
Contributing to the debate, David Howell, Baron Howell of Guildford, asked his Government to investigate how sanctions imposed by the EU and the US are “making the food situation even worse” in Zimbabwe.
“Could my noble friend say a little more about the workings of EU and American sanctions, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just pointed out, are being increased at the moment?,” asked Lord Howell.
“I know the intention is that they should hit entities and officials, and maybe they are doing so, but there are suggestions that one outcome is that this is making the food situation even worse for many innocent people.
“Can he explain how sanctions are working and whether we are satisfied with how they are operating?”
In response, Lord Howe said the UK would review its position on sanctioning Zimbabwe at the end of the year. The development comes as Government is accelerating the implementation of political and electoral legislative reforms, to further entrench democracy and personal freedoms.
An Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Political, Electoral and Legislative Reforms set up last year and chaired by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi is fast-tracking sweeping legislative changes to replace laws considered repressive or anti-business in an audacious bid by authorities to entrench democracy and a business-friendly environment.
Most of the new laws are expected to be either in place or before Parliament by June. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Deputy Minister David Musabayana told our Harare Bureau that there was a growing constituency within the British establishment that is open to normalising relations with Zimbabwe.
“We are amenable to such an undertaking (the proposed bailout). This is the whole essence of re-engagement where we are looking for strategic partners who are willing to assist in areas of need. As you know the reason why we are in the situation that we are in right now is because of legacy issues; where the Lancaster House Conference had made an undertaking that the British were going to provide about 1 billion Pounds towards Land Reform, but there was a change of government between the Conservatives and the Labour party, which came into power and refused to honour that agreement.
“Even the US had pledged to provide around US$75 million a year towards the Land Reform Programme, again that was also never released. So, those are some of the gaps that were created. Like we always say, re-engagement is a process. I think there is a constituency within the British establishment that has realised the need (to assist) and have realised the reforms that we are undertaking. But beyond reform, we also need financial packages. So as Government as long as it is a financial package that goes towards development and is without any strings attached and does not compromise the national interest of Zimbabwe, we are amenable to that.”
Harare has long insisted on its commitment to political and economic reforms, pointing out that reform was a process and not an event. Last week, Minister Ziyambi told our Harare Bureau that Government cannot “short circuit” legislative processes.