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Zimbabwe accuses IMF of insincerity

Zim Online

Mon 30 January 2006

      HARARE - A government-controlled newspaper in Zimbabwe on Sunday
accused a visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation of
insincerity and "shifting its position" over its dealings with the Harare

      The IMF team arrived in Zimbabwe last Tuesday on a six-day visit to
assess the country's progress five months after the IMF board deferred a
decision to expel the country for non-payment of debt.

      In a front-page report, the weekly Sunday Mail newspaper, which
normally reflects government thinking, lashed out at  the IMF team saying
Zimbabwe's fate had already been sealed. It urged Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe
governor Gideon Gono to be cautious over his dealings with the IMF.

      Quoting unnamed government sources, the newspaper said: "The governor
(Gono) seems inclined to please the IMF but he needs to exercise caution
about these people and these institutions.

      "Right now, we hear that the IMF is shifting its position, saying its
strained relations with Zimbabwe were not caused by the country's failure to
pay back the money it borrowed but by the country's fiscal and monetary
policies," the source   said.

      Relations between Zimbabwe and the IMF have been frosty since 1999
when the Fund withdrew balance-of-payment support after disagreeing with
President Robert Mugabe over fiscal policy and other governance issues.

      Last September, the IMF spared the axe on Zimbabwe after the country
made a surprise US$120 million payment to the Fund. The Harare authorities
have since made further payments to the IMF to leave the debt at US$136

      The newspaper said Harare should not expect better treatment from the
IMF despite the payments because the Fund  was bent on expelling the
country. It said the IMF were "insincere partners".

      The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and Western
governments blame Zimbabwe's economic crisis on Mugabe's land reforms which
disrupted the key agriculture sector, one of the country's biggest foreign
currency earners.

      But Mugabe denies his land reforms are to blame for Zimbabwe's
economic woes. He says the problems are due to sabotage by Britain and
Western governments who are unhappy over his land reforms. - ZimOnline

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Zim faces IMF expulsion


29/01/2006 12:45  - (SA)

Harare - Debt-ridden Zimbabwe may be at risk of being thrown out of the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose officials are in the south African
country assessing its economic policies, a state-run weekly warned on

Harare won itself a six-month reprieve in September 2005 by making an
unexpected payment of US$120m to the IMF to relieve some of its outstanding
debt to the world lending body.

But the Sunday Mail quoted "impeccable sources" as saying the IMF had now
shifted its focus away from Zimbabwe's debt arrears of $136.7m and onto its
domestic financial policies.

"Zimbabwe should not be upbeat about the current visit by the IMF team, amid
revelations that the Bretton Woods institution is now saying its strained
relations with Harare stems from the country's fiscal and monetary policies
and not the country's failure to service its debt with the fund," the weekly

The team's findings will be submitted to the IMF executive on March 8, which
will decide whether to stop all future loans to Zimbabwe.

If this happens, Zimbabwe will become only the second country to be kicked
out since the former Czechoslovakia in 1954.

The Sunday Mail warned Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa and Central Bank
governor Gideon Gono not to be too optimistic.

"It has also emerged that barely 48 hours after meeting representatives from
the ministry of finance and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the IMF team ...
has already started compiling the report it is set to represent to the
Fund's board," it said, quoting unnamed sources monitoring developments
between Harare and the Washington-based financier.

President Robert Mugabe has had sharp disagreements with the IMF over its
policy prescriptions, accusing it of imposing excessively harsh conditions.

For the past six years Zimbabwe's parlous economy has struggled with
three-digit inflation, now hovering at about 500%, and chronic shortages of
foreign currency and basic goods.

More than 80% of the population lives below the poverty line and more than
two thirds are jobless.

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Zimbabwe begins power cuts

Zim Online

Mon 30 January 2006

      HARARE - Zimbabwe has begun power cuts to cities and towns lasting
several hours on end because of an acute shortage of electricity, the result
of equipment breakdown and also because South Africa is unable to maintain
exports to its neighbour.

      In yet another example of how infrastructure is collapsing in Zimbabwe
after six years of unprecedented economic decline, the capital, Harare and
the second biggest city of Bulawayo were on Friday plunged into darkness for
about four hours.

      Officials at the state-run Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority
(ZESA) told the Press that the blackout was part of a load shedding plan as
they battled to ration the little power available to all parts of the

      "We introduced load shedding in some parts of Harare and this also
affected other parts of Bulawayo suburbs," ZESA spokesperson Obert Nyatanga

      Nyatanga said main foreign supplier, Eskom, was experiencing problems
with some of its generators forcing it to reduce exports to Zimbabwe.

      Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its power requirements and apart from
Eskom also buys electricity from Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of
the Congo (DRC).

      Eskom's inability to maintain normal supplies to Zimbabwe had resulted
in total power imports falling by about 80 percent and this at a time ZESA
was also having problems with one of its ageing generators which has now
been put under repair.

      As a result, ZESA has been left with an electricity shortfall of 400
megawatts, Nyatanga said.

      The ZESA official said the power cuts will continue for several more
days but were expected to end by end of the week.

      Electricity is only one item on a long list of key commodities in
critical short supply in Zimbabwe as the country grapples its worst ever
economic crisis, described by the World Bank as unprecedented in a country
not at war.

      Food, fuel, essential medical drugs, chemicals to treat drinking water
for urban residents and nearly every other basic survival commodity is in
short supply because there is no hard cash to pay foreign suppliers.

      The South African, DRC and Mozambican power firms have maintained
supplies to ZESA despite its erratic payment record more because their
governments will not allow them to switch off Zimbabwe.

      But energy experts say power firms may not be able to maintain
supplies to Zimbabwe by 2007 because they will have run out of excess
electricity, a situation set to plunge Zimbabwe into an unprecedented energy
crisis. - ZimOnline

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World Food Programme mobilises more food for Zimbabwe

Zim Online

Mon 30 January 2006

      HARARE - The World Food Programme (WFP) at the weekend said it is
stepping up distribution of food to millions of Zimbabweans following an
agreement with the Harare authorities late last year.

      WFP country representative, Kevin Farrel, said his organization was
planning to distribute about 300 000 tonnes of food to starving Zimbabweans
between now and the next harvest in April.

      "We have been reasonably successful so far. We need to continue to
mobilise more food," said Farrell.

      The WFP said more than 1.9 million people in 32 districts in Zimbabwe
had so far received about 20 000 tonnes of food between November and

      Zimbabwe, once a net food exporter, is battling severe food shortages
after President Robert Mugabe disrupted the key agriculture sector through
his often violent seizures of commercial farmland from whites for
redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

      The farm disturbances slashed food production by 60 percent resulting
in Zimbabweans depending on food handouts from international donors. Mugabe
denies his land policies are to blame for the food shortages blaming the
crisis on drought.

      Mugabe has also denied that there were food shortages in the country
insisting Zimbabwe had harvested enough to feed itself. But last year Mugabe
reluctantly agreed to allow the WFP to resume food distribution around the

      The WFP said at least three million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the
country's 12 million population, were in need of immediate food aid between
now and the next harvest in April or they would starve. - ZimOnline

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Forex Shortage Compounds Cattle Disease Outbreak

African News Dimension

      Sunday, 29 January 2006, 8 hours, 45 minutes and 37 seconds ago.

      By Gift Phiri

      The lack of foreign currency to buy animal vaccines has led to the
outbreak of a variety of highly contagious cattle diseases in Zimbabwe that
are threatening to spread throughout Southern Africa.

      The lack of foreign currency to buy animal vaccines has led to the
outbreak of a variety of highly contagious cattle diseases in Zimbabwe that
are threatening to spread throughout Southern Africa.

      Controllable livestock diseases like blackwater fever, heartwater and
      tick-borne diseases have drastically reduced Zimbabwe's national herd
      around six million in 2001 to less than 250,000 today.

      Despite laws requiring the acquisition of veterinary service permits
      people wishing to move livestock from one place to another, the lack
      effective monitoring and alleged bribe-taking by officials has led to
      unchecked movement of stock, resulting in the failure of the control
      programme, observers said.

      Controllable livestock diseases like blackwater fever, heartwater and
tick-borne diseases have drastically reduced Zimbabwe's national herd from
      around six million in 2001 to less than 250,000 today.

      The government is remaining tight-lipped about an outbreak of
      bovine pleuro-pneumonia (CBPP), or cattle lung disease, which was
      detected in the northwestern district of Tsholotsho in Matabeleland
      province two weeks ago. Joseph Made, Minister of Agriculture  said he
had not received any conclusive information.

      The reported outbreak has caused alarm across Southern Africa. Last
      Botswana ordered its department of veterinary services to go on full
      to prevent a spillover of the disease, as has been the case with
      foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks in Zimbabwe.

      Media reports in Botswana say the lung disease scare is being taken
      seriously, as it follows a confirmed outbreak in southern Zambia three

      Philemon Motsu, the Botswana deputy director of Animal Health and
      Production, said the country had intensified disease surveillance
patrols at
      border entry points. "We have not detected the cattle lung disease as
      but we are on full alert and we will do our best to prevent it from
      spreading into Botswana."

      Zimbabwe remains under FMD quarantine. Cattle shows, once a major
attraction at the annual Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), are

      As disease outbreaks continue to spread, Stuart Hargreaves, the
director of
      the Zimbabwe Veterinary Services Department, said that the government
      had failed to secure funding for a comprehensive animal disease
control and
      vaccination programme.

      "Government has not been able to secure money for the importation of
      basic livestock vaccines from the Botswana Vaccines Institute. I
cannot give
      the exact figure required for vaccination and control programmes, but
      remains a major problem across the country," Hargreaves said.

      A senior disease surveillance and control officer in Zimbabwe's
      Production Unit, within the ministry of agriculture, said: "There is
      improvement - outbreaks are becoming more rampant. Previously
      diseases are re-emerging, and there is nothing we can do because there
      no medicines. The little money that is there is in local currency, yet
      need foreign currency to import vaccines. Communal dipping services
      suspended and we cannot promise farmers any help at the moment."

      He added that FMD had become a permanent threat, and encouraged
farmers who could import vaccines to do so and consult the department for
assistance in bvaccinating their animals.

      Coupled with the collapse of commercial cattle production due to farm
      invasions and acquisitions since February 2000, Zimbabwe's failure to
      control diseases has also led to the loss of a number of lucrative
      export deals.

      The European Union stopped importing beef from Zimbabwe shortly after
      FMD outbreak in 2001, while Malaysia, Libya, Iran, the Democratic
      of Congo and other emerging markets have also slapped embargoes on
      Zimbabwean beef products.

      Repeated CBPP outbreaks are fast becoming a regional problem. The
cases in Zambia and Zimbabwe follow a similar outbreak in October last year
at the
      Linyanti Park in northern Namibia, but it was quickly controlled.

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Fuel for essential services diverted

African News Dimension

      Sunday, 29 January 2006, 10 hours, 51 minutes and 22 seconds ago.

      By andnetwork .com

      SOME service stations contracted by the National Oil Company of
Zimbabwe (Noczim) in Bulawayo to sell fuel to some sectors that provide
essential services, are allegedly abusing the facility by clandestinely
selling the commodity to private motorists at black market prices, Sunday
News can reveal.

      SOME service stations contracted by the National Oil Company of
Zimbabwe (Noczim) in Bulawayo to sell fuel to some sectors that provide
essential services, are allegedly abusing the facility by clandestinely
selling the commodity to private motorists at black market prices, Sunday
News can reveal.
      The well-orchestrated illegal sale of Noczim fuel that allegedly
involves some petrol attendants, managers and selected motorists, is
clandestinely done to the extent that ordinary motorists cannot detect it.
      At one of the garages, motorists pay money for the fuel in a
supermarket, get a coupon and then proceed to get fuel at the pump, while at
another garage money for fuel was allegedly paid at a surgery and motorists
are given a receipt written the quantity of fuel only, which they then
proceed to produce at the service station.
      Sources close to a popular garage in Bulawayo (name supplied) said it
was allegedly selling fuel which it gets from Noczim at inflated black
market prices of as much as $100 000 per litre instead of between $22 800
and $23 300 after the inclusion of carbon tax.
      Carbon tax is levied at $1 000 of every litre of fuel purchased by the
      Bulawayo Transport Owners Associations (BUTOA) chairman, Mr Francis
Malunga said they were not getting fuel from the garages that were
designated to do that by Noczim.
      "We are not getting any fuel from the garages, in fact what has
happened is that we have been shuttled from one garage to the other, but
nothing has been coming. The fuel, they say is meant for us comes once after
two months at some of these garages," said Mr Malunga.
      He said that they were surviving on the black market where five litres
of fuel was being sold at about $600 000.
      Funeral parlors said they were getting fuel from some of these service
stations, but the amount they were receiving has since been reduced, making
it almost impossible for them to operate their businesses.
      "We used to get 60 litres per week per vehicle, but now the amount has
been reduced to 20 litres which can not sustain a funeral, going to Luveve
and coming back," said a Farley Funeral Parlor official said.
      An official from an ambulance services in the city said they were
getting their fuel from different sources at varying prices.
      "Right now the fleet manager has gone out to look for fuel. We have
not been getting fuel from these service stations," said an official from a
local ambulance service company in the city who declined to be named.
      The fuel that is supplied to these selected garages is supposed to be
accessed by essential services such as funeral parlors, ambulances,
bakeries, public transporters and schools.
      However, most of these sectors were only supplied with less quantities
of the commodity and the rest was reportedly clandestinely sold to private
motorists at black market prices.
      The public relations manager of Noczim, Miss Zvikomborero Sibanda
confirmed that the said service stations were receiving fuel meant for
essential services only and that it was not supposed to be sold to private
      "We supply the garages with fuel and it is supposed to be sold to
essential services at the gazetted price of between $22 800 and $23 300,"
said Miss Sibanda.
      However, sources said some Noczim officials are part of the fuel scam,
as they allegedly make arrangements for their friends to buy fuel from these
designated garages.
      The price for petrol is $22 800 while that of diesel is $21 800 and
the prices have since increased by $1 000 after the introduction of carbon
      The garages that are supplied with Noczim fuel in Bulawayo are Luveve
Motors in Luveve, Belmont Motors along Plumtree Road, Power Fuel in
Saurcetown, Riverside Service Station and Wedzera.
      An official from one of the accused garages denied the allegations
saying that they were not violating any laws.
      "We sell the fuel to essential services only and there is nothing like
selling to individuals," he said.
      The official said they do not import fuel on their own, but get all
the fuel from Noczim.
      However, motorists who phoned the Sunday News said they were accessing
the fuel at the black market price from some of these garages and that they
were not given receipts as the law demands because the deal was illegal.
      Bulawayo police spokesperson, Inspector Smile Dube said they were not
aware of the situation.
      He said police officers that were members of the provincial task force
on fuel were supposed to report everything through the information and
liaison office, adding that no one had done so.
      "We are not aware of such a situation, but we have our fuel task force
on the ground who will look into that," said Insp Dube.
      The Government has deregulated the sale of fuel and private
individuals are now allowed to sale fuel at the open market. The majority of
these dealers are selling it for over $100 000 per litre.
      Private motorists are allowed to import up to 2 000 litres of fuel
without import licences, above which they are required to have import
      Zimbabwe has been facing serious fuel shortages owing to limited
availability of foreign currency.

      Source : Sunday Mail ( Zimbabwe )

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Peace talks deadlocked

HARARE: Peace talks between Zimbabwe's embattled cricket rulers and their
rebel players, who claim they are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars,
failed to resolve the crisis on Friday.

But players representative Clive Field believes that there is the will on
both sides to hammer out a solution to the chaos which has seen Zimbabwe
suspended from Test matches for the second time in two years.

"We are pursuing dialogue and we have no option but to try to make
progress," Field told the respected

"To do anything else would signal the end. We respect the commitment given
by the committee and will try to match it. But we still have many issues to
be resolved."

The talks were between the players and Zimbabwe Cricket's Technical and
Player Welfare Sub-Committee but there was no serious headway made on the
thorny issue of unpaid match fees.

It is understood that the players want to receive their money in US dollars
while Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) insist the deficit is made up in local currency.

On Monday, all 35 of Zimbabwe's professional cricketers told ZC: "Pay what
you owe or we will not negotiate any new contracts." Their ultimatum was
conveyed to interim chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket Peter Chingoka.

The players are claiming, in total, close to US$250,000 in unpaid Test match
and one day international fees, according to opening batsman Dion Ebrahim,
plus more than 500,000 dollars in back pay and allowances.

The 12 seniors and some of the 23 junior players have not been paid match
fees since New Zealand toured here in August and India in September.

They claim they also haven't received their full pay since October. The
dispute over salaries relates mainly to a volatile exchange rate in Zimbabwe
of the local dollar against the US currency.

Five months ago it was 25,000 Zimbabwe dollars to the US dollar; now it is
about 85,000 Zimbabwe dollars - more than treble - which is the figure they
are demanding before they will resume playing.

Most of the 35 are already overseas with various clubs, counties and states
of South Africa, England and Australia. Others have said they intend giving
up cricket altogether.

Both recent captains Heath Streak and Tatenda Taibu have resigned in recent
months. Field was approached by Zimbabwe Cricket through a local businessman
last week with suggestions on how negotiations might proceed. It appeared
then that progress might be made.

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Mashonaland and Matabeleland refuse to bow down

Steven Price

January 29, 2006

Two of Zimbabwe's oldest cricket playing regions, the Mashonaland and
Matabeleland Country Districts Cricket Association have vowed to keep on
playing despite threats by the government that the associations will be

However, just over a month after the government took over the administration
of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) through an interim board, the Country Districts
have not yet received formal notification regarding their status.

"I don't know what they are going to do. We cannot do anything about it,"
said Andy Kemp, chairman of the Matabeleland Country Districts Association.
"But we will continue playing cricket. We have always played cricket in
Matabeleland Districts. We have produced world-class players like Heath
Streak and Adam Huckle. What more can you ask from any association? ZC has
not done any development here for twenty years. We have done everything
alone. What makes them think that they can do anything now?"

Kemp added that the game had suffered a major setback in both the rural and
urban regions of Matabeleland since the ZC board started clashing with

'Everyone is disillusioned," he said. "Even the school kids here are
disappointed. There are a lot of guys who were looking for a career in
cricket, now they can't."

Kemp said Zimbabwe's withdrawal from Test cricket was inevitable as the
union would not have managed to raise a side for future assignments under
the present leadership. "If they don't have a side how can they play? If the
board had acted in faith two years that dispute would not have been
repeated. The board let down its key assets, the players.

"You can't replace a cricketer overnight. It takes time and hard work to
nurture an international player. We have lost Taibu at only 22, when he was
just starting his international career. We have pushed too many players."

© Cricinfo

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Gold worth US$160m smuggled out in 2005

African News Dimension

      Sunday, 29 January 2006, 1 hour, 51 minutes and 52 seconds ago.

      By ANDnetwork Journalist

      AS rampant corruption continued to rear its ugly head among Government
officials, Fidelity Printers and Refiners, both large and small-scale miners
alike, gold worth US$160 million ($16 trillion) was last year smuggled out
of the country.

      Fidelity Printers and Refiners is a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of
Zimbabwe (RBZ) and is the country's sole handler of gold.

      RBZ Governor Dr Gideon Gono said such practices in the private sector
have contributed to the relapse of indiscipline and deflation of business
confidence in the economy through an observable sense of indifference and
aloofness to some of the central bank's and Government's turnaround

      Dr Gono said the deceleration in gold deliveries to the RBZ from 21,3
tonnes in 2004 to 13,4 tonnes in 2005 is largely attributable to the
widespread leakages that were taking place, engineered and driven by some
players in the mining sector and in some cases sponsored by some prominent
members of society.

      This development reveals a decline of nine tonnes in the comparative

      Gold deliveries to the country's sole gold handlers Fidelity Printers
and Refiners declined by 37 percent last year.

      Dr Gono said there is a need that greater surveillance be instituted
at the country's mines, so as to curb the growing incidences of gold
smuggling and side marketing.

      He added that the country cannot afford to live under a "paradoxical
dichotomy" where miners' consumption levels of fuel, electricity, spare
parts, explosives, chemicals and machinery "all imported" is ever rising
suggesting increased productive activity, whilst in reality, the same mines
are declaring falling output levels.

      "Government surveillance instruments should, thus, be rigorous, with
each mine submitting detailed reports to the Ministry of Mines, and to the
Reserve Bank for purposes of accounting for extractions and exports.

      "To this end, the Reserve Bank has over the last quarter been
investigating this issue with the assistance of Israeli experts in
collaboration with the Zimbabwe Republic Police," explained Dr Gono.

      Dr Gono added that the introduction of the recommended systems and
reporting procedures should commence with the gold sector next month.

      The decline in gold production output levels comes as a step
backwards, away from the growth that the sector was projected to experience
over the next few years following the recent surge in gold prices on the
international markets.

      In the past few weeks, prices of gold firmed by 11 percent in the
largest upsurge in recent years.

      Source: The Sunday Mail

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Government denies plans to introduce Chinese language education

African News Dimension

      Sunday, 29 January 2006, 1 hour, 58 minutes and 39 seconds ago.

      By ANDnetwork Journalist

      THE Government does not intend to force students at the country's
universities to learn Chinese but will work to ensure Zimbabwe and China
continue to strengthen political, economic, cultural and educational ties,
the Secretary for the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Dr
Washington Mbizvo has said.

      Dr Mbizvo's statement, made on Friday, comes in the wake of recent
media reports that suggested Government was planning to soon introduce
Chinese lessons at universities countrywide as part of its "Look East"

      The article, carried in The Standard of January 22 this year, made
reference to a speech which the Minister, Dr Stan Mudenge, delivered at the
International Conference on the transformation of Masvingo State University
to Great Zimbabwe University earlier in the month.

      Dr Mbizvo said the minister did not mention that the State would
impose the Chinese language on local universities but had, in fact,
suggested that the university should introduce oriental studies, given its
tradition of preserving cultural trends.

      He pointed out that the "Look East" policy had deep historical
traditions with the Chinese "with tangible evidence existing at Great
Zimbabwe today".

      "The ministry does not intend to introduce Chinese 'as part of the
Look East policy' as alleged in the article and never in his key note
address did the minister talk about offering a 'curriculum that will see
students from all universities in the country taking Chinese language

      "The introduction of oriental studies like Chinese language or history
at Great Zimbabwe University does not translate to mean all students from
the university will study Chinese (language) or history, neither does it
imply all universities will introduce Chinese history or language in their
curricula," said Dr Mbizvo.

      The conference, which was held on January 18, drew distinguished
scholars and academics, who also commended the Government's "Look East"
policy, highlighting that it had become a global trend for different
countries to conduct trade with China.

      Source : The Sunday Mail

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The truth is dazzling: capitalism = prosperity
      By John Blundell
      29 January 2006

      THERE are endless recipe books on how to make a soufflé, roast a
pheasant, bake a walnut cake or create an exquisite salad. But this is the
ultimate recipe book, and it is very different. It might be entitled The
Wealth of Nations, but someone nicked that. Instead it carries the unlovely
but apt title, 2006 Index of Economic Freedom - the link between economic
opportunity and prosperity. It contains more than 400 pages of detailed
figures and it comes from perhaps the most influential thinktank the world
has seen, namely The Heritage Foundation in Washington DC.

      I admit I am dazzled. I am intrigued. Here is the most exacting
analysis of the nature of society of every nation from the mighty United
States to tiny Cape Verde Islands published. As its discoveries chime so
perfectly with my prejudices I'm naturally enthusiastic.

      Why do some nations, often in adverse locations, prosper? Why are
some, with lush soils and huge mineral resources, destitute?

      The answers may be highly complex in detail but they could hardly be
more plain in nature. Humanity prospers when it has freedom of trade. This
could also be expressed as freedom of contract - that people can swap their
goods and wares and services without control, regulations and taxes.

      How do we ensure freedom of trade and contract? The answer is a
paradox, perhaps because it is: by the state operating the rule of law. What
is the rule of law? It is that "legislation has to be impartial, predictable
and capable of generalisation", as Hayek defined liberty.

      Who is top of the league of such virtues? Hong Kong, Singapore,
Ireland, Luxembourg and Iceland. Who is bottom? Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Iran and
North Korea. Sudan, Iraq and Congo don't even rank, as they are so lawless.
The UK, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are up there with the best
scores, but short of top marks. Perhaps it is the speed of rank change that
is most intriguing.

      I applaud Estonia, ranked seventh best in the world after only 15
years from being a Soviet province. Venezuela, once relatively rich and
placid, is a basket case tumbling down the league table under Hugo Chavez's
weird perception that Cuba is a model to emulate.

      It is worth being emphatic - there is no link whatsoever to natural
resources. What has Iceland got? It is cold, dark and barren. Yet it has
freedom. It thrives.

      Russia, snug between Cameroon and Azerbaijan, is ranked at 122nd. It
has vast endowments of mineral wealth and rich soils, but its citizens are
not free.

      Hong Kong and Singapore are anomalies of history. They are city states
of Chinese folk but they still live under the halo of Anglo-Saxon rules - it
is common law terrain. Myanmar and Zimbabwe used to be more prosperous but
now are collapsing.

      I would love to see the Index of Economic Freedom as a compulsory book
in every classroom - except, of course, we do not believe in compulsion.

      So, I assert what we all know intuitively, that prosperity and its
first cousins productivity, security, clean water, or any other desirable
civic blessing, is derived from trade. This may be expressed in the great
engine that unites all of mankind, or at least those open enough to trade.
This is the vast price mechanism that allows us to learn who wants what and
when and where.

      I think it close to a miracle that I can buy Chilean wines, Ghanaian
chocolate, Kenyan beans and Australia beef at Tesco's prices, buy petrol
from Kuwaiti, watch my Japanese television and play on my Californian
keyboard. Expressed individually these are banalities, but in aggregate they
are a marvel.

      Archaeologists and DNA analysis seem to confirm we are all descended
from a once tiny population of homo sapiens probably in Africa. We were
fragmented by time and geography. Now globalisation is re-uniting us all. It
is very optimistic.

      But the index also alerts us to the hazard of interest groups always
trying to compromise or pollute freedom of trade. The EU's agricultural
autarchy is not merely corrupt. It brutalises those people locked out. The
authors of the Index of Economic Freedom eschew policy prescriptions, but I
offer the insight Israel could enjoy greater peace if it adopted free trade
and open borders. China and Taiwan can liberalise their trade so that
differences would erode.

      Note the migrations of humanity too. Nobody aspires to live in
wretched lawless nations. We seek out the law-rich locations.

      So here is a perfect birthday present if you know any aspiring
politicians. They might grasp the crucial lesson, which is to focus on what
only you can do, such as the rule of law, do it well, and by and large leave
the rest to the market.

      John Blundell is director general of the Institute of Economic
Affairs. The Index of Economic Freedom Heritage Foundation, £20

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