Zimbabwe’s P1 million debt causes discord among Batswana legislators

DEBATE  over a P1 million debt owed to Botswana by the government of Zimbabwe has divided parliamentarians, with some calling for a cancellation while others insisted Gaborone should stop “acting like a rich nation” and demand repayment from Harare.

The about US $90 000 debt arose from the 2011 export, to Zimbabwe, of 26 503 cattle that had survived a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak which led to a mass slaughter of infected beasts among other control measures and forced an extended suspension of Botswana beef exports to the European Union (EU).

The cattle were sold in a government-to-government deal to the Zimbabwean State-owned Cold Storage Commission (CSC) where they were slaughtered and the beef sold at subsidised prices. Under the agreement the Zimbabwean government was supposed to pay the  debt owed to Botswana within 45 day after the cattle were delivered.

The deal also included the supply, free of charge, of FMD vaccines by the Botswana Vaccines Institute (BVI) up to the end of 2015. On Wednesday, Botswana Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Boipelelo Khumomatlhare, told the Parliamentary Public Accounts (PAC) that the Zimbabwean government stopped paying shortly after delivery and had indicated that it would not be able to pay the debt due to the dire economic situation it faces.

“In 2015, we wrote a letter to the Zimbabwean Minister of Agriculture (Joseph Made) and he responded by saying they were willing to pay, but  they didn’t have the money.

“We later communicated with the Zimbabwean ambassador (in Botswana) who also responded by saying the country was in a dire situation and they would not be able to pay the debt even if they were willing,” Khumomatlhare said.

The debate continued with PAC member and Bonnington South MP Ndaba Gaolathe saying Botswana should consider seeking advice from the Attorney-General with a view to cancelling the debt owed by its troubled northern neighbour. He said the cancellation would contribute towards the recovery of the Zimbabwean economy, and by extension, for Botswana too.

“The recovery of the Zimbabwean economy would mean have a positive impact on ours because both countries need each other. To continue to demand the debt would be like beating a dead horse,” he said.

However, fellow PAC member, Ignatious Moswaane, said Botswana should demand the repayment of the debt in full. “The ministry should find ways to collect the debt regardless of whether the government of Zimbabwe has the money or not.

“They entered into an agreement, and they knew they had to pay. We should stop acting like a rich nation and stop making unnecessary donations. We should get what is owed to us because if not, others who owe will also want their debts to be cancelled. Just imagine how many millions would then be lost,” argued Moswaane.

Debate on the issue was adjourned and its expected to continue in the next few weeks.

Botswana has  blamed infected cattle which cross into the country through the river borders with Zimbabwe, where livestock disease control and agricultural extension services collapsed in the 2000-2009 because of a decade long  of economic meltdown.

Last month, the government of Botswana announced that all Zimbabwean livestock which strayed into the country would be shot on sight to prevent the spread of FMD.  – ANA