China says Zimbabwe is understating financial support

HARARE (Reuters) – China accused Zimbabwe on Tuesday of understating its financial help to the southern African nation, after budget figures released last week showed that major ally Beijing ranked poorly on the list of Harare’s foreign donors.

Zimbabwe faces its worst economic crisis in a decade, which has been exacerbated by a severe drought. Rolling power cuts and shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines have made life unbearable for the population of 15 million.

In the absence of funding from lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, China has over the years become a major financier of projects in Zimbabwe, including water and power, through the China Export and Import Bank.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in a budget statement on Thursday that Zimbabwe received $194 million from bilateral donors between January and September, the bulk of the money from Western countries.

He said China provided $3.6 million, a figure that was criticised as paltry by opponents of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which considers Beijing an “all-weather friend”.

The Chinese Embassy in Harare disputed the figure, saying in a statement: “This is very different from the situation on the ground.”

The embassy said its records showed that bilateral financial support to Zimbabwe was far greater, at $136.8 million between January and September. The figure excluded donations to vulnerable groups, the embassy said.

“The embassy wishes that the relevant departments of the Zimbabwean government will make comprehensive assessments on the statistics of bilateral supports and accurately reflect its actual situation when formulating budget statement,” the embassy said in a terse statement.

Finance Ministry spokesman Clive Maphambela could not immediately comment on the discrepancy.

In a country where authorities have a history of quietly racking up foreign debt without the approval of parliament, the funding discrepancy has led to questions from the government’s critics as to whether it is hiding figures or it has just made an accounting error.

Zimbabwe does not receive budget support from foreign lenders or donors after defaulting on its debt of more than $9 billion. It relies on taxes to fund the entire budget.

Western countries, however, still provide funding to Zimbabwe through charities.