FORMER United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Harry Thomas, has warned that high-level corruption in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration might frustrate mobilisation of food aid for the country’s estimated seven million food insecure citizens.

Thomas told American television station PBS that top officials in the Zanu PF government were inflating prices of grain imports and pocketing the proceeds and in the process scaring away international donors offering to help those in need of food aid.

“There is concern that continuing corruption can mean that the people of Zimbabwe could not get the help they need, but we need to hold the government accountable,” he said.

“For example, they have imported wheat from Tanzania, the worldwide prices is about US$240 to US$250 per tonne. They charge US$600 per tonne, so they have inflated the price, so the wealthy and cronies can buy it and sell it at a price double the worldwide price. They are trying to import some from Mozambique, but Mozambique wants to be paid in hard currency and the people are suffering and these are brilliant people.”

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Thomas also expressed concern over looting of mineral resources by the country’s well-connected and elite class, while ordinary citizens are wallowing in abject poverty and failing to send their children to school.

“To see people not to have to send their kids to school, to have to walk to work … is heart rendering. (The) people of Zimbabwe deserve better,” he said.

“This is because of massive corruption, mismanagement from many years. The government and leaders of Zimbabwe are only interested in power accumulation and wealth maintenance. It’s unfortunate, it’s man-made, in spite of the drought, but people of Zimbabwe deserve better. It happens when its leaders take all of the money that they earn through selling minerals as they should, gold, platinum. They are a very wealthy country, (but the leaders) put it in their pockets.”

But Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana dismissed Thomas’s claims, saying government was not sourcing its wheat from Tanzania or Mozambique,.

“We are buying wheat from neither Mozambique nor Tanzania,” Mangwana curtly said, although the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) went on record in June last year saying it had released US$7 million for the procurement of 19 000 tonnes wheat from Mozambique, translating to around $368,42 per tonne.

Local millers buy wheat from the Grain Marketing Board at
$8 000/tonne, which translates to US$533 at the current interbank rate.

Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe chairman Tafadzwa Musarara said he was unaware of wheat imports made by government.

“We don’t know if government is importing wheat. I think they are concentrating on maize, I can only talk about the wheat we are importing using free funds, which we land in the country at US$407 per tonne,” he said.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom said it would continue engaging Mnangagwa’s government on the country’s food aid needs.

“Over the coming weeks, UK in Zimbabwe will be talking to Government of Zimbabwe about its response to the humanitarian situation, targeting those who need the most support,” UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson said.