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EXECUTIVES from tax-payer-funded firms made rare but frank disclosures of their disintegration in discussions with a British delegation that visited the country in October, pleading for bailout from the former colonial power, the Financial Gazette. The executives were joined by Cabinet ministers, who buried public rhetoric against British firms to explain Zimbabwe’s desire for capital from London.

Details of the State-sanctioned meetings that marked the first real engagement between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom since a fall-out between the two countries precipitated by a violent land redistribution exercise in 2000 emerged from a report by the British Foreign amp Commonwealth Office. The report exposed hypocrisy by politicians, who have publicly denounced London for leading a global campaign to stifle economic growth in the southern African country, but were keen to please the delegation and secure crucial funding to contain an economic meltdown in the country.

According to the report, Britain is prepared to extend US$2 billion worth of funding for local projects. A Cabinet minister confided with the British delegation that while Zimbabwe had switched to China to revive its ailing industries, the world’s second largest economy lacked critical expertise in a number of key areas. Financial statistics disclosed to the delegation during private meetings, where officials admitted that Zimbabwe’s economy was in distress, showed that State-owned firms were in dire straits.

The cash-strapped National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) requires close to US$130 million to “do stop gap” rehabilitation of 168 locomotives “until finance is available to buy new fleet. The signalling and telecommunications network is in urgent need of repair and rehabilitation. NRZ is using a UHF system ‘just to get by.’ NRZ’s system was designed to transport 80 million tonnes per annum, it is currently moving six million tonnes” the report revealed.

NRZ executives who met the delegation said with funding, the transporter could revisit abandoned projects like the rail link between Harare and Chitungwiza, which requires US$440 million.

Power producer ZESA Holdings, crippled by a serious erosion of power generation capacity due to ageing assets, discussed several projects, including the US$145 million Orange Groove-Triangle transmission line and the US$64 million Alaska-Sherwood line.

However, quite shocking were presentations by the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, which superintends over cash spinning diamond mines, for a US$54 million injection for resuscitating a number of closed gold mines. Transport Minister, Obert Mpofu, who has announced plans to expand the controversial tolling system to cash-strapped and poor rural communities, and sits at the apex of the highly liquid Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA), discussed difficulties in funding a US$200 million per annum budget to maintain 17 000 kilometres of the national road network.

However, his ministry has disclosed that millions of United States dollars collected by ZINARA had been diverted to pay civil service salaries, the workforce described by Chinamasa last week as being paid to sit in their chairs. ZINARA, which told the delegation that it was collecting about US$130 million per annum, revealed that it had a US$870 million funding gap and was collecting a fraction of its requirements.

The Foreign amp Commonwealth Office report said there were vast opportunities for British firms in Zimbabwe but also warned of potential risks in the southern African State. “British skills and investment would evidently be appreciated in Zimbabwe,” the report said.

“It is, however, a fundamentally more politicised environment than other regional markets. The Zimbabwean government have, for some time, been exploring a “Look East” policy, in the hope of attracting increased Chinese investment into the country … any international investors, be they Chinese or European, will require the Zimbabwean government to present “truly bankable” infrastructure projects and clear and predictable business environment”.

The following are some of the remarks made by Cabinet ministers to the delegation. Energy and Power Development Minister, Dzikamai Mavhaire, told the delegation during private talks that resumption of trade and economic ties between London and Harare was critical because “the United Kingdom knows the potential of Zimbabwe well and much of the country’s ageing energy infrastructure and equipment is British built or designed”.

“(It is) the return of a long lost brother. We will take your hand as it is extended to us,” said Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who was at the forefront of a campaign to indigenise British firms when he was minister of indigenisation in the inclusive government.

“The group was a mouthpiece to UK business,” noted Chiratidzo Mabuwa, Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce.

“..A very positive step towards the normalisation of relationships… Zimbabwe is now open to investment from every quarter,” the report quoted Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa as saying.

“… the Ministry is ready to engage at any time at any level,” said Transport Minister Obert Mpofu.

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Source : Financial Gazette