By Everson Mushava

UNITED States (US) ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, has dismissed government claims that Western sanctions were behind the country’s economic meltdown, saying the haemorrhage was being fuelled by high-profile corruption, economic mismanagement, policy inconsistency and failure to respect human rights, among other vices.

In an opinion piece exclusively written for NewsDay, Nichols said those vices were holding the country back.His statement comes as government has declared tomorrow a public holiday to campaign for the unconditional lifting of the sanctions.

Government claims sanctions were blocking lines of credit and trade.Sadc countries have also pledged to observe the day in solidarity with Harare to pressure the European Union and US to lift the sanctions which were imposed following gross human rights abuses and electoral fraud during the late former President Robert Mugabe’s rule.

The US government in March this year extended the sanctions by a year, saying they would only be lifted after President Emmerson Mnangagwa has honoured his reform pledge.

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“Blaming sanctions is a convenient scapegoat to distract the public from the real reasons behind Zimbabwe’s economic challenges — corruption, economic mismanagement, and failure to respect human rights and uphold the rule of law,” Nichols said.

“What then is holding Zimbabwe back? It’s not sanctions. There are only 141 Zimbabwean people and companies on the US sanctions list. That’s right, just 141, in a country of 16 million. They are on the list for good reason.”

He added: “There is no US trade embargo on Zimbabwe. American companies are interested in investing in Zimbabwe, but are deterred by the massive levels of corruption, economic uncertainty, and weak rule of law. So, investors turn to other promising opportunities in the region and wait for the country to embrace the political and economic reforms that would make it a more attractive destination.”

Nichols said the greatest sanctions on Zimbabwe were the limitations the country was imposing on itself.Nichols said Zimbabwe is ranked 160 out of 175 nations on Transparency International’s corruption list.

The US envoy chronicled a lot of corrupt activities by government fatcats, including the missing US$2,8 million earmarked for the Command Agriculture programme, and how American companies were unceremoniously elbowed out of the Dema Power project after winning the tender in 2016, and replaced by Sakunda Holdings.

He also cited scandals at the Zimbabwe National Road Authority and Zesa Holdings, where millions of dollars could not be accounted for.

“Corruption is at the heart of why Zimbabweans are suffering through prolonged power outages. It’s not sanctions. It’s a betrayal of the public trust,” Nichols charged.

He declared that Zimbabwe loses more than US$1 billion per year to corruption, which is a huge figure considering that the country’s entire economy is just around US$26 billion.
He said if government was serious about fighting corruption, the country’s laws should be applied evenly and enforced.

If the government managed to do that, then State coffers would be full and the economy humming, he further averred.The US envoy said Mnangagwa’s administration must also resolve several reports of abductions and human rights violations recorded in the past few months.

Meanwhile, NewsDay yesterday gathered that government had extended a begging bowl to the corporate sector and well-wishers to fund its ambitious anti-sanctions march pencilled for tomorrow, and commandeered all students not sitting for public examinations and staff to organise own transport to the venues.

Teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed that government had ordered all pupils not writing public examinations to attend the national and provincial anti-sanctions marches without fail.

Zanu PF structures, meanwhile, have been moving around the country soliciting for financial support to fund the campaign which is expected to gobble at least $4 million.

In an undated letter signed by one T Beto on behalf of Chipinge State Occasions Committee, members of the Chipinge Dairy Farmers Association were asked to provide diesel to transport people to Chipinge for the march, while several provinces, including Harare, have received similar requests.

“Chipinge district has taken a stance to support the solidarity march whose main event will be in Harare, with a similar one being held in Chipinge,” part of the letter on a Local Government ministry letterhead read.

“In view of the above, we have been assigned as the district fundraising committee subcommittee to mobilise diesel for vehicles to ferry members of Chipinge community to the historical event.”

The letter added: “We thus unite to request for your support in providing the committee with diesel to fuel vehicles that will transport people to the event.”

In Harare, Primary and Secondary Education secretary Tumisang Thabela wrote to provincial education director Christopher Kateera on October 15, advising that government had requested the release of about 2 304 students and teachers for mass display performances at the main anti-sanctions march.

“You are requested to ensure availability of the learners and their teachers for this important government event without disrupting examinations that are already under way.”

Teachers’ unions also leaked a WhatsApp message that was also ordering schools to release general hand staff for the anti-sanctions march, with the respective schools expected to foot their transport and food bills.

Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi yesterday said teachers were civil servants and obliged to support government work.

“The anti-sanction is a State event and Public Service has the right to compel teachers (to attend). It is not a partisan event, it is a national event,”Mutodi said.

“It is ignorance or the lack of understanding by those teachers and I doubt their credentials. These are State events and they are required to participate.

“Teachers have been advocating for the higher salaries and government has not been able to pay them because of those sanctions.”