Money that was externalised out of Zimbabwe does not belong to the government but to the exporters?


It is said that her bags were never opened at the airport by customs officials, meaning there were possibly no records kept of those activities. If that was cash being smuggled, it could even be more difficult to trace because cash is fungible. So once the state cripples its own capacity to police black market’s illegal movement of value, it is most likely that it won’t have records of it.

Having dispensed with the aspect of illegal movements, let us explore the legal transfer of value. Mnangagwa’s “name and shame” list had categories, which included exporters as well as value transferred to “foreign banks in cash or under spurious transactions”. This brings me to the next point.

The second point is that these funds deemed externalised, in fact belong to the people who externalised them. They do not belong to the government. Before dollarisation (which is still possibly the case now) all foreign exchange belonged to the government. In other words, it’s treated as a national asset. This issue became grey the moment Zimbabwe adopted multiple currencies. So that we don’t get trapped in legalese, there is a reason for that.

In Zimbabwe’s multi-currency environment, theoretically, if you remit funds back to Zimbabwe, it doesn’t mean the funds now belong to the state. The funds still remain yours, just that they become part of the nation’s collective reserves – a national asset. So, all those listed on the “name and shame list” can still bring the funds back to Zimbabwe and the funds remain their funds.

The challenge is after bringing the funds back into a local bank, into the national pool, you can use the funds locally, but you struggle to pay offshore obligations. This is largely because of the mirage that Zimbabwe uses the United States dollar and that balances in local banks are equivalent to the US dollar. This is a sore point for many exporters as they are left lurching for solutions when they want to import goods and services.

But why should an exporter’s earnings be deemed to be national assets? The answer lies in the whole essence of states. Within a state or jurisdiction, in theory, all resources in there belong to everyone. The state has a stake in the means of production – land, labour, resources etc. The state owns all resources, underground, on the ground and above the ground.

They then licence individuals and businesses to exploit them for a profit. It is for this reason that if you own a piece of land and you want to drill a borehole, you must get a licence because the water underground is not yours even if you own the land.

If you own a farm for example, and there are minerals underground on that farm, the minerals don’t belong to you until you are licensed to mine them. This is why under Zimbabwean law as it stands, mining takes precedence over farming. If your farm is on another person’s mining claim, their mining claim has precedence over your farming operations.

Another example is telecoms operators. In the past, operators were largely parastatals owned by the state – the reason being that telecoms uses a scarce/finite resource called bandwidth. The nation has a limited amount of bandwidth available, which they licence out to few operators. Not everyone can be issued bandwidth, so its licensed out to a business which has its own obligations to the state and nation for the privilege to use that bandwidth.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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