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Raila Odinga leaves for Zimbabwe to open infrastructure forum

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Newly appointed African Union special envoy Raila Odinga left the country on Sunday for Zimbabwe to open a forum on infrastructure development in the continent.

Odinga, African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa, will open a meeting of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), his office said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

It said the former Kenyan prime minister will lay out his vision for project preparation, resource mobilization and financing mechanisms for infrastructure development in Africa.

“He will also share his thoughts on attainment of smart and Integrated Infrastructure Development, among other matters,” said Odinga’s office. He will jet back into the country on Monday.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, has said the appointment of Odinga is part of the pan African body’s drive to expedite the integration of the continent through infrastructure, in order to promote economic growth and sustainable development.

He said Odinga will work to support and strengthen the efforts of the Commission’s relevant departments and those of the planning and coordinating agency of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, within the framework of PIDA.



Zimbabwe revises downwards growth forecast for 2018

By Gretinah Machingura HARARE (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwe on Thursday revised downwards its growth forecast for 2018 to 4 percent from 6.3 percent previously projected due to economic headwinds in the second quarter of the year.

Presenting his maiden budget statement for 2019 in parliament, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said the economy will also grow by 3.1 percent in 2019, down from the initially projected 9 percent due to previous macro fiscal vulnerabilities and a drought that is expected in the 2018/19 agricultural season.

However, fiscal consolidation measures beginning 2019 are expected to give a strong rebound in economic growth to above 7 percent from 2020, he said.

Zimbabwe, he said, was expecting to get 606.7 million U.S. dollars from development partners in 2019, with 453.4 million coming from bilateral partners and the remainder from multilateral partners.

He said the main focus of the budget, themed “austerity for prosperity,” is to stabilize the economy and focus on quick wins to stimulate growth and job creation so that the country remains on track to achieving its long-term goal of becoming a middle income economy by 2030.

Ncube said the government will tighten its expenditure to curb budget deficit which, together with current account deficit, rising inflation and foreign currency shortages has become major sources of economic vulnerabilities.

He said budget deficit will close the year at 11 percent of Gross Domestic Product, higher than previously projected but will gradually fall to 5 percent in 2019, 4 percent in 2020 and 3 percent in 2021.

Ncube said to reduce expenditure, the government will with effect from January 2019 weed out all ghost workers in the civil service through introduction of bio metric registration for all civil servants, impose a 5 percent salary cut on basic salaries of senior government employees and reduce the country’s foreign missions, among other cost-cutting measures.

Central bank quasi activities that have also imposed a strain on the fiscus will be discontinued, Ncube said.

He, however, said civil servants will get their bonus payments this year despite the constrained fiscal space although the reward will be based on basic instead of gross salaries.

“The 2019 budget places emphasis on living within our means by instilling fiscal discipline and rationalizing expenditures in order to create additional financial capacity for funding developmental expenditures and enhancing delivery of public services,” Ncube said.

He said Zimbabwe’s GDP had grown 40 percent bigger to 24.6 billion U.S. dollars from 21 billion dollars after a rebasing exercise last month.

Following rebasing, the country’s per capita GDP for 2017 rose from 1,235 dollars to 1,508 and was being projected to end 2018 at 1,642, thus placing Zimbabwe in lower middle income status, the minister said.

He said revenue collection amounting to 5.3 billion dollars is anticipated in 2018, against estimated expenditure of 8.2 billion thus giving an expenditure overrun of 2.8 billion dollars or 11 percent of GDP.

The minister introduced a raft of revenue enhancing measures including a requirement for customs duty on imported individual motor vehicles to be paid in foreign currency with effect from Nov. 23, 2018.

He also introduced a 7 cents excise duty per liter of diesel and 6.5 cents per liter of petrol.

The minister said the government had set aside 53 million dollars in the 2019 budget for payment of compensation to former white commercial farmers whose land was repossessed by government during the land reform program.

In view of progress made by platinum miners to set up beneficiation plants, the minister deferred the 15 percent tax on exports of unprocessed platinum from Jan. 2019 to Jan. 2022.

Platinum is Zimbabwe’s second major foreign exchange earner in mining after gold. 


South African police arrest 98 illegal migrants, seize smuggled beer

PRETORIA South Africa (Xinhua) -- South African police on Thursday arrested 98 illegal migrants and seized opaque beer illegally imported from Zimbabwe.

Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe said “undocumented persons” were arrested during their safe festive season operation that was conducted on Thursday. He declined to divulge the nationality of the arrested migrants.

“A truck with 800 Chibuku beers, 46 litres of juice and 36 kilograms of biscuits was confiscated and the driver fined for transporting undeclared goods, all from Zimbabwe,” said Col. Ngoepe.

The operation comprised of the police, taxes officials and soldiers among others. The multi-disciplinarian section also visited Beitbridge border post with Zimbabwe and held some meetings, said Ngoepe.

The police said they are on high alert during this festive season to arrest those found on the wrong side of the law.


Finnish business executives among five killed in plane crash in Zimbabwe

HELSINKI Finland (Xinhua) -- Two Finnish business executives were among the five killed in a private plane crash in Zimbabwe, Finnish media reported Saturday.

The companies of the executives have confirmed their names as Heikki Vappula, director of the biorefining sector of United Paper Mills, a paper producer, and Pekka Ojanpaa, CEO of the service company Lassila & Tikanoja.

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila and Foreign Minister Timo Soini expressed their condolences on the loss on social media.

Four Finns, including the two executives, and a Zimbabwean pilot were killed in the accident on Friday, Zimbabwean police said. The victims were on a hunting tour in the southern African country.

The other two Finns were reportedly an associate owner of a major legal service company and an influential staff member of a leading IT branch.


United Nations World Food Program seek funding to support Zimbabwe refugees

By Gretinah Machingura HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said Thursday it is seeking 6.5 million U.S. dollars to provide food and financial aid to more than 12, 000 refugees at Zimbabwe’s Tongogara Refugee Camp for the next three years.

WFP deputy country director Niels Balzer told Xinhua that it would be more helpful if the donors can provide funding for livelihood programs, in addition to in-kind donations to ensure the refugees become self-reliant.

“While food and in-kind donations are welcome and very important, we also need to have concurrent parallel investment into livelihood activities for the refugees,” Balzer said.

He added: “Investment in livelihood projects would assist us in that we don’t want to continue spoon feeding the refugees but we want them to look after themselves just like other normal families. With proper support the refugees can look after themselves.”

He emphasized that continuous supply of humanitarian assistance to the refugees was critical, in as much as they were also looking for support for livelihood projects.

The WFP is currently giving 13 dollars per month per person to 12, 517 refugees in the camp.

The camp’s refugee population has been rising rapidly, from 5,000 in 2015 to the current 20,410, due to escalating conflicts in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Balzer said the funding they require for the next three years to 2021 may increase given the increasing number of refugees into the camp, situated in Chipinge district in Manicaland Province.

The camp is receiving on average 150 asylum seekers every month and a total of 1, 382 refugees arrived at the camp in the first 10 months of this year.

The WFP began managing the food assistance program for refugees at the camp in 2015 when refugee population rose above 5,000.

The WFP in partnership with UNHCR and other aid organizations has already started income generating projects for the refugees.

“Together with UNHCR we are working strongly on the self-reliance agenda. We want to see strong investments in livelihood activities such as piggery and poultry projects to bring more income to the refugees so that eventually we can take a step back and they become self- sustaining,” Balzer said.

He added that they would want donor support in irrigation development at the camp as well as projects for the youths.

“We would like the irrigation scheme to be expanded because the government of Zimbabwe has indicated that there is an extra 25 hectares that can be exploited for irrigation. Currently there are 25 ha under irrigation and further expansion means more families will be taking part in farming activities.”

Funding was also welcome in activities for the youth to equip them with life skills and a source of income, Balzer said.

“Although most of the youths go to school, after that they have nothing to do so we would like to have some projects that can help youths to sustain themselves. We are looking at things like carpentry and self skills projects which would really assist us to ensure that they are able to look after themselves.” Balzer said.


China makes U.S. two million dollar donation to refugee camp in Zimbabwe

By Gretinah Machingura CHIPINGE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- A batch of relief items was handed over to Zimbabwe’s Tongogara Camp in Chipinge, Manicaland Province, on Tuesday, as part of a 2 million U.S. dollar denotation from China.

The funding was used to buy foodstuff for new arrivals and being given to the refugees in the form of cash.

The World Food Program (WFP), in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other aid organizations, is managing the distribution of the food items and cash transfers.

The WFP now gives 13 dollars per month per person to more than 12,000 refugees in the camp.

According to the UNHCR, Zimbabwe received 1,382 asylum seekers at the Tongogara Refugee Camp in the first 10 months of this year.

The camp’s refugee population has been rising rapidly, from 5,000 in 2015 to the current 20,410, due to escalating conflicts in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Receiving the donation, camp administrator Johann Mhlanga thanked the Chinese government for the assistance.

He said the Chinese assistance will help to empower and transform the lives of the refugees.

“Through funding from the People’s Republic of China and contributions from other donors, the cash-based intervention has greatly transformed the lives of refugees and the host communities,” Mhlanga said.

He said the cash given to the refugees had created downstream benefits with some recipients starting micro enterprises.

Economic and commercial counsellor of Chinese Embassy Chen Ning reiterated China’s commitment to continued assistance to the refugee camp to improve the lives of the inhabitants.

“We are fully aware that long-term stability, security, development and invigoration for Africa is not only the longing of the African people; it is also the responsibility of the international community. China stands ready to work with international partners including WFP, UNHCR to support African states including Zimbabwe in economic development and social security.

“The Chinese government has worked with UNHCR and WFP on the relief program of Tongogara Refugee Camp in the form of donating both in-kind and in-cash items,” Chen said.

He thanked Zimbabwe’s central and local governments supporting and facilitating the implementation of the program.

“Together we have made the camp a second home for the refugees,” Chen said, adding that China is ready to bring Chinese medical experts and agricultural experts in Harare to the camp to offer services to the refugees.

WFP deputy country director Niels Balzer paid tribute to China for the generous donation.

“I know we would all agree that there is no place like home, but this is why we are so grateful for the Chinese contribution, which goes a long way toward providing stability and security in Tongogara Refugee Camp,” Balzer said.

UNHCR head of field office David Banda said the donation came at a time when funding to the refugee program in Zimbabwe is dwindling.

“UNHCR is grateful to China for the financial assistance they have provided to the refugees program in Zimbabwe,” Banda said. “The 2 million dollars financial support came at a time UNHCR, its partners and the government of Zimbabwe were struggling to address basic essential needs of refugees due to limited financial and material resources.”

He said the number of refugees at the camp continues to increase, with an average 150 asylum seekers arriving every month.

Apart from food, the camp is also struggling to provide accommodation and education to the growing refugee population.



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