The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has written a letter to the World Bank (WB) to impose ‘strict conditions’ on the Bank’s recent planned US$7 million Covid-19 grant to Zimbabwe. Last month, the United Nations and humanitarian partners in Zimbabwe appealed for US$84.9 million to respond to both the immediate public health crisis and the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable people in Zimbabwe.
In a letter dated 3 June 2020, directed to WB President David Malpass, Senator James Risch said in the wake of covid-19 pandemic, International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have already taken quick and unprecedented measures to provide much needed assistance to poor and vulnerable countries.
“I commend these efforts to enable scarce resources to go where they are most needed: to fight coronavirus and mitigate associated economic and social impacts. “I write today with respect to WB support to Zimbabwe for coronavirus response and to urge the Bank to attach strict accountability and transparency measures to that program. These are important given the need for significant reform of most state institutions in Zimbabwe, pervasive corruption and impunity and the demonstrated disinterest by the Government of Zimbabwe in the wellbeing of its citizens,” he said.
Despite the southern African nation having cleared its US$107.9 million debt in 2016 to IMF its external debt to other multilateral institutions stands at over US$8 billion. However, early last month the WB announced plans to provide Zimbabwe with a US$7 million grant for coronavirus response, with $5 million coming from the WB’s global financing facility trust and US$2 million being diverted from the Zimbabwe Idai Response Project (ZIRP) that is helping communities recover from the devastation of Cyclone Idai, which hit eastern Zimbabwe last year.
The Bank has other trust funds, for instance the newly announced Health Emergence Preparedness and response Multi-Donor Fund, which are accessible by countries in arrears. This year, IMF announced immediate debt service relief to 25 poor and vulnerable countries excluding the southern African nation, in the wake of Covid-19, which has placed a financial burden on many nations globally.
“This extraordinary crisis will require an exceptional response, but it is equally important not to lose sight of the historical behavior of countries like Zimbabwe where the government has used, and continues to use, state resources and international aid to suppress its population and enrich the country’s ruling elite,” Risch said.
“I was relieved to hear that the US$7 million grant for Zimbabwe will be managed and implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Dutch Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid (Cordaid), but concerns remain that the funding this grant provides for desperately-needed response initiatives will fall into the wrong hands, directly or indirectly, despite the best intentions of the implementing partners.”
He said: “It is for this reason that I urge the WB to impose very strict benchmarks and transparency and accountability measures on the US$7 million grant and any future program for Zimbabwe to ensure that procurement processes are fair and transparent; that contracts for goods and services are not awarded to Zimbabwean companies under U.S. sanctions or known to engage in corrupt practices (as was the case with the Zimbabwean government’s Command Agriculture program); that distribution of assistance is not discriminatory or manipulated for political gain or to bolster the security sector and that projects are completed in a timely fashion as planned”.
Senator Risch said this is to both ensure accountability by the implementers to deliver results and eliminate any forms of interference by government actors. He said any package mobilized must incorporate independent Zimbabwean civil society and community voices.
He raised concern about some of the grant funds which were redirected from ZIRP’s Cyclone Idai response. “Areas affected by Cyclone Idai, including Mutare and Chimanimani, still suffer total devastation and significant need,” he said.
There is need to continue supporting those communities as they rebuild, he added.
Photo: U. S. Senator James Risch, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.