Health workers protest economic hardship during the coronavirus pandemic in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 6 2020. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
Health workers protest economic hardship during the coronavirus pandemic in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 6 2020. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Johannesburg/Harare — One of Zimbabwe’s biggest creditors rejected a government request for debt relief until it improves its human rights record and pays arrears on outstanding debt.

The country’s plea for relief was rebuffed in a June 12 letter to Zimbabwean finance minister Mthuli Ncube from Odile Renaud-Basso, chair of the Paris Club. The group, to which Zimbabwe owed $3.26bn in 2018, represents creditor nations including members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The letter, seen by Bloomberg, was in response to an April 2 appeal by Ncube to the heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, African Development Bank, Paris Club and European Investment Bank seeking an arrears-clearance programme and debt relief. Zimbabwe’s relations with multilateral lenders have been strained for almost 20 years as it gas failed to meet payments and a series of elections were marred by violence and irregularities.

“Zimbabwe’s desire to normalise its relations with the international community can only advance following the implementation of substantive economic and political reforms,” Renaud-Basso said. The required reforms are “regarding the respect for human rights, especially freedom of assembly and expression”.

Winning debt relief was a key plank of Ncube’s strategy to kick-start the economy after two decades of stagnation. The former Oxford University lecturer’s attempts to drive economic reform and improve relations with lenders have been thwarted by the violent suppression by Zimbabwean security forces of a series of demonstrations.

Schwan Badirou Gafari, secretary-general of the Paris Club, declined to comment, as did Clive Mphambela, a spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s treasury.

Ncube hasn’t commented on the letter he sent or whether he got any other responses. His appeal comes at a time when the country’s economy is in free fall as a result of economic mismanagement in recent years. It is also trying to recover from the worst drought in four decades, a rare cyclone and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has confirmed 734 cases of the disease and nine deaths, as of Tuesday, according to the health ministry.

Renaud-Basso said the Paris Club will only re-engage Zimbabwe once its arrears to international financial institutions have been paid and cautioned the country to use the limited amount of aid it has received to combat Covid-19 transparently.

In 2018, the last time figures were provided, Zimbabwe had $7.66bn in external debt. New Zimbabwe, an internet website, reported on the letter earlier.


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