Harare - Zimbabwe's finance minister galloped through his budget speech to parliament on Thursday, leaving even President Robert Mugabe looking thoughtful.
Patrick Chinamasa, who turns 70 next month, looked and sounded determined against all the odds as well you might when you're printing money and you've just announced that the treasury bills on which you've been depending can no longer be used to plug Zimbabwe's deficit.
With $3bn of Zimbabwe's $4.1bn budget going to salaries, there wasn't an awful lot of (real) money left for Chinamasa to play with. (He said that the uptake of the 17 million US worth of bond notes released into circulation so far had gone "beyond our expectations").
There were some boos and only a few cheers from Zimbabwe's subdued MPs to this budget.
The first chorus of boos came after Chinamasa announced that the budgetary allocation to parliament would be just $30.7m.
Likewise, an announcement that each constituency would get just $50 000 under the Constituency Development Fund was greeted with derision.
Chinamasa's announcement of 40% excise duty on paraffin wasn't welcomed. Apparently paraffin imports have soared recently: some locals have been mixing it with diesel. The minister said this was ruining car engines.
There was heckling when the minister spoke of the elimination of corruption.
Cheers? They were more scarce. There was some nodding at the announcement that a new tax of 5c on every 1 US spent on data and airtime would go to a health fund (though on social media, the move aroused contempt). There were more nods when Chinamasa said that there would be no capital gains tax on donated housing.
The biggest cheer came when the minister said that there would be no duty on raw imports for companies manufacturing sanitary wear. This is something women's rights activists have been asking for for a long time. They say that the high cost of sanitary wear means many girls from low-income families go without, meaning that they either miss school for several days each month or they use unhygienic methods of sanitary protection.
"We simply have to run faster than others in order to survive," Chinamasa said as he concluded his speech.
|Boos, cheers for Zimbabwe's 'bond' budget|