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Volume 709: debated on Monday 16 March 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, we are ready, with other donors, to support the new Government when we see demonstrable commitment to reform. Tendai Biti’s appointment as Minister of Finance is a positive development, and an IMF mission this month provides an opportunity for constructive dialogue. However, major concerns remain about commitment to democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. Of course, our thoughts are with Morgan Tsvangirai after the tragic loss of his wife.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will agree with what the noble Lord has just said about Tsvangirai’s wife. Were not specific commitments made in the Memorandum of Understanding between political parties in Zimbabwe? Does not Mugabe’s party continue flagrantly to breach those commitments? Does not the memorandum also say that implementation of the global political agreement,

“shall be underwritten and guaranteed by the Facilitator, SADC and the AU”?

Is not the facilitator Thabo Mbeki?

Is the Minister aware of any censure by the guarantors over those continuing breaches or, given the expectation by SADC members that the UK will provide funding for Zimbabwe, have we been given any indication by SADC and the African Union of measures that they intend to adopt to make good their guarantee?

My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, there are one or two developments that give some cause for optimism, but progress is very slow, as the noble Lord indicated. That is why the British Government are extremely guarded in our response to developments in Zimbabwe. The noble Lord is right that there is a role that Thabo Mbeki is to play in monitoring the development of and encouraging the restoration of those features which I have indicated in terms of the rule of law and the return to democracy. We wait and see. At this stage, it would be premature to reach judgments, but the noble Lord is right to raise the issue. We must be watchful of what are very limited developments in Zimbabwe at present.

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that the money they give Zimbabwe via United Nations agencies is allocated as it should be? Is there monitoring that is independent of the United Nations of the distribution of such international funds?

My Lords, the House is pleased to see my noble friend back, and I am encouraged by this question. The position of the British Government with regard to aid in Zimbabwe is that aid is concentrated on food aid under the United Nations programme and on concern about the health and welfare of the people of Zimbabwe, particularly given the background of the recent cholera epidemic. Those are both priorities to which international support is being given. Although there is always a difficulty about monitoring certain flows of funds, the international community and the British Government have a great interest in ensuring that the two main issues in Zimbabwe—food and the restoration of some degree of public health—are priorities that can be monitored.

Thank you, my Lords. More specifically, the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee was set up by SADC to oversee the power-sharing agreement between ZANU-PF and the MDC. Never has its work been more desperately needed than now. I heard last week a first-hand account stating that this committee does not have the resources to do its work. Can pressure be brought to bear on SADC countries, or are the Government themselves prepared, to supply the committee with the resources it needs to do this job?

My Lords, the SADC commitment was entered into voluntarily and the Prime Minister, of course, is responsible for seeing it through. We are concerned about this monitoring position. The question of whether there are sufficient resources also relates to the extent of the will to monitor effectively. It is still early days to reach judgments on that matter, but the noble Baroness is quite right to identify it as a key element, because this was the assurance given as regards underpinning the development of the new arrangements in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, I should like to be associated with the condolences expressed by the Minister on the tragic loss of Mr Tsvangirai’s wife. While I note the Zimbabwean Government’s declaration of the principles that have to be satisfied, does the Minister agree that the best way of restoring confidence in the international financial institutions would be for them to comply with the specific requirements of the constitution as amended, including full consultation before the appointment of senior government officials, such as the governor of the bank, Gideon Gono, and the Attorney-General, Mr Tomana? Can the noble Lord assure the House that he has specific proposals on these matters, particularly on the release of the 40 political detainees, to place before the G20 when it meets in the near future?

My Lords, Zimbabwe remains an important issue for the international community. Therefore, I have no doubt that these issues will be discussed. Tardy progress has been made towards the development of the principles upon which the Government should be founded that the noble Lord identified. He is right to express anxiety about appointments, as I have indicated, but one or two developments and appointments, including the swearing into office of Mr Bennett who has been freed from prison, offer some limited encouragement. We have to be patient in circumstances where quite a significant transition of this Government needs to occur.