BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube yesterday said Zimbabweans should not criticise his budget surplus, and claimed that his austerity measures had saved the economy from an economic collapse induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ncube, who is in New York, the United States, where he is on a roadshow to charm investors to the southern African nation, told delegates attending a business conference yesterday at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) held under the theme Embracing the new normal for business and industry: Realities and Opportunities.
Ncube said COVID-19 vaccination had anchored the country’s economic recovery strategy and people should not criticise the budget surplus he often boasts about insisting that it had saved lives through the purchase of vaccines and other interventions.
But immediately, civil servants accused him of dishonesty, claiming the surplus was superficial when the majority of Zimbabweans are wallowing in poverty.
“The other response is the vaccination programme. Colleagues, the surplus works. I repeat the surplus works. Don’t criticise the surplus,” Ncube said in a virtual address.
“If we did not have the surplus in 2020 of US$100 million, we could have been in deep trouble as a country. We would not have managed to acquire the vaccines that have gone into your arms right now.”
Ncube’s speech was delivered under the topic: The Pandemic and the economy: Business Recovery Support initiatives — fiscal interventions and perspectives.
The business conference drew delegates from industry and commerce with Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, as the guest speaker, accompanied by several Cabinet ministers.
“When you think of the surplus, think of that vaccine that is going into your arm; that is what it is all about. So far, we have spent US$127,3 million procuring additional vaccines, again focusing on Sinopham and Sinovac,” Ncube said.
“We have enough vaccines to go around so get vaccinated. This is an economic recovery strategy and not just a health strategy for saving lives.”
Ncube has often attracted criticism over the country’s budget surplus with critics citing widespread poverty and hunger.
Civil servants have on several occasions pleaded with Ncube to use the surplus to fund their salaries to cushion them against the harsh economic climate where prices of basics keep going up.
Teacher unions yesterday accused Ncube of trying to “justify the unjustifiable.”
“We can’t have a surplus when the majority of Zimbabweans are living in poverty and receiving starvation wages. That shocking contrast between richness that is supported by the surplus and extreme levels of poverty and penury is unacceptable. A surplus that can only be seen by the rich people and not extended to the poor people is an unnecessary surplus,” PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou said.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure added: “We have criticised the surplus because it has overally been fictitious. We are all aware that we have been receiving a lot of support from donor agencies to keep us going as a nation.
“Zimbabwe should not be operating within the confines of just saving money; Zimbabwe must be operating through investing in our people, investing in social services . . .”