Zimbabwe’s taxpayers are disgruntled with the 10 percent drought relief levy that was introduced last month. This is, however, not because they do not want to help their less privileged countrymen but because their relatives are discriminated against when it comes to food distribution. They are also worried that the money may not be used for the purpose it is being collected for.
The taxpayers, mostly blacks with parents living in the rural areas, are querying why they should be asked to contribute the drought relief levy when their parents are not given any drought relief supplies because they have working children.
They argue that because of the harsh conditions of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which is already making it difficult for many to meet their own requirements, it appears they are being punished for being in formal employment.
Their argument is based on the fact that besides contributing to the drought relief levy they also have to buy food for their parents since these parents are barred from receiving drought relief supplies.
This, they say, kills the incentive to help others. Moreover, they are not even sure that the money will be used to help the destitute since the government is increasingly failing to meet the people’s drought relief requirements.
Food rations were initially pegged at 10 kg a family. President Mugabe said this would be increased to 15 kg but within days of this announcement, the government cut the supplies to 5kg which even single persons cannot survive on. Worse still those in need of food are not even receiving that 5 kg.
President Mugabe was told in almost every province he toured during his meet-the-people tour that people were now tired of empty promises. Some of the villagers were even angry that they were constantly told that they could not obtain food supplies because of transport problems yet when the President visited their areas there was not only transport to bring in some food but also to ferry them to the venue of the rallies.
Another burning issue seems to be the Paweni experience where the late businessman made millions out of drought relief supplies. Names of government ministers were mentioned but this was quickly swept under the carpet because people at the time, were still enjoying the independence euphoria that blinded them from seeing anything wrong with the ruling party.
The last time the drought levy was collected, about seven years ago, nearly $50 million was raised. Up to now there has been no public mention of how the money was used despite persistent requests for such information.
Another burning issue is that the current food crisis is largely of the government’s own making. The country which had been a major food exporter was forced by the international financial institutions to sell its maize stocks because of allegedly high storage costs but is now importing food at a much higher cost.
The government also appears to have been wrongly criticised for keeping the producer price of maize down. Farmers claim that the low producer prices forced them to diversify into other cash crops but statistics show that up to 1987 Zimbabwe’s guaranteed maize price, though static at $180 a tonne for four years, was much higher than the world price except for 1983 and 1985. It began to fall in 1988 but now seems to be levelling up.
International economists also accuse the government of poor planning because drought has never been taken into account as one of the major factors that affects the country’s economic performance right from the first three year transitional development plan to the current five-year plan. They say this is despite the fact that the country has been affected by a series of droughts which are among the worst on record.
The droughts have not only affected agricultural production and livestock but have also had a severe impact on manufacturing because of the shortage of raw materials and, in some cases, because of water rationing.
|* The 1992 figure is for the first quarter only.