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Going, Going Gono?

The knives are out for Zimbabwe’s profligate central bank governor.
By Chipo Sithole

Controversial Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, RBZ, governor Gideon Gono is fighting for his political life, with his powers severely whittled down and his unfettered access to the treasury cut off.



On April 9, President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara are expected to meet to end Gono’s tenure at the helm of the RBZ.



The three have resolved to audit the central bank and to take action if there is evidence of impropriety on the governor's part, as alleged by donors and by both Tsvangirai and Mutambara.



Gono's mandate as central bank chief was unilaterally renewed by Mugabe for a second five-year term in December 2008, sparking opposition outrage.



The Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which blames Gono for ruining the economy, insists the governor's re-appointment went against the spirit of the September 15 power-sharing agreement which sets out that all executive appointments must be made after consultation between Mugabe and his prime minister.



Calls for the governor’s removal have escalated, with the latest coming from the G20 group of countries who are expected to bankroll Zimbabwe’s reconstruction. The G20 issued a statement urging the new government to take steps to demonstrate its commitment to reform through “the establishment of a credible and transparent central bank team”.



Britain’s Africa minister Lord Malloch-Brown has warned that no financial support will be forthcoming until there is new, competent and trustworthy team at the central bank.



Gono is a personal banker to and personal friend of Mugabe, who is battling to keep him in his job.



Recently, calls for Gono to be sacked have intensified. Parliament has summoned him to respond to reports of impropriety.



In an apparent attempt to curry favour with legislators ahead of the meeting, Gono pledged at a meeting held in Harare on April 2 to give the 314 representatives in both houses of the bicameral parliament second-hand vehicles while they await their brand-new Nissan Navaras, to be used for constituency work.



The used vehicles were apparently bought for an ill-fated project during which central bank staff were deployed around the country to educate the public about the country’s new currency.



Claiming that his offer was a "temporary measure" to enable legislators to visit their constituencies, Gono said, "You will give us back our vehicles when the finance minister gets money to buy you new vehicles."



The offer had the effect of mollifying some of the more vocal members of parliament, who were demanding the central bank chief's head.



Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who has clipped Gono’s wings and has reportedly called at two successive cabinet meetings for the governor to be removed, has warned him against giving away cars, stating that it is not his job to do so.



At the ministerial retreat in Victoria Falls, Biti instructed Gono to stop engaging in “quasi-fiscal activities”. "[He] had no authority to give the members of parliament the cars,” Biti said. “I certainly need to know where the money came from."



The offer comes amid swirling controversy over the brand-new luxurious, three-litre official Mercedes Benz E-Class vehicles accepted by MDC ministers who, in the past, have railed against government profligacy amid grinding poverty.



Education Minister David Coltart is the only member of the cabinet to have rejected the luxury vehicle, saying he could not accept the offer with a clear conscience.



Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe.

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