Blessing Zulu, Tatenda Gumbo
WASHINGTON — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara met three key cabinet ministers at Munhumutapa Building in Harare on Tuesday to discuss funding for the referendum and general election.
The ministers who met the three principals are Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Mines Minister Obert Mpofu.
Harare has been struggling to raise enough money to fund the two electoral processes and has been forced to reduce the referendum budget from US$85 million to US$58 million.
But Mutambara told VOA that the government is making progress and has raised US$71 million for the referendum and general election. The referendum is to be held March 16.
Zimbabwe has also requested for over US$225 million from the United Nations Development Program to fund the elections. The UN is still assessing the Zimbabwe request.
Meanwhile, in a bid to raise funds for the polls, Biti announced on Monday that a 20 percent increase on excise duty on fuel had been introduced with effect from March 9.
The 5 percent increase means that fuel prices will range from $1.59 to $1.61 a litre, depending on the outlet. Diesel is now selling at $1.45 per litre.
The excise tax is expected to be passed on to consumers by suppliers. Economists said price hikes of other goods and services are inevitable.
He said government increased excise duty on fuel because Zimbabwe had the cheapest prices in southern Africa.
Petrol currently sells at between $1.50 and $1.55 per litre while diesel is going for between $1.38 and $1.40.
Biti said the increase is among a cocktail of measures that the coalition government, which has so far raised $31.5 million for the referendum, has put in place to ensure polls are held, most likely in July, despite depleted government coffers.
Economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe told VOA the impact will be felt in all major sectors of the economy.
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) condemned the fuel increase calling it a burden on under-paid workers.
PTUZ secretary general Raymond Majongwe said it is wrong for the government to target individuals to help foot the election bill.
Majongwe said the government should have relied on selling natural resources like diamonds instead of pressing Zimbabweans to part with their hard-earned money to fund such national events.