Harare - Zimbabwe's embattled finance minister has set a Herculean task of slashing
four-digit inflation by two-thirds and getting the ruined economy back on track, but experts say his latest budget is not
up to the job.
Presenting the budget for 2007 on Thursday, Herbert Murerwa forecast marginal growth of 0.5% to 1% and added that the country's
astronomic inflation rate would fall to 350%.
The projected growth would result from "good weather, stabilising of commodity prices, improved mineral deposits and growing
number of tourist arrivals," Murerwa said.
But critics say the minister is far too optimistic in a country where the economy has shrunk by one third. The former regional
breadbasket now suffers from critical shortages of food and fuel.
Zimbabwe's agriculture sector is expected to grow by 6.4% owing to bountiful rains in the current farming season, Murerwa
Agriculture, once the backbone of the economy, is in decline following a controversial land reform policy which saw the often
violent seizure of white-owned farms by landless blacks who often lacked expertise and equipment.
Murerwa also said the mining sector would grow by 4.9% on the back of strong global prices.
"The budget is still very shy to deal with issues affecting the economy such high unemployment, foreign currency problems
and inflation," Calisto Jokonya, president of Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) told AFP.
"It is good the minister knows the problems affecting our country, but he did not offer any solutions."
Central bank governor Gideon Gono has blamed runaway inflation partly on a strong growth of money supply that was fuelled
by the free printing of currency to service old debts owed to the International Monetary Fund.
The IMF had threatened to expel Zimbabwe for failing to meet debt payments.
'Country remains under siege'
Best Doroh, an economist with ZB financial holdings, said Murerwa was being "overly-optimistic" with his targets for inflation
"He is projecting a real growth rate of between 0.5% to 1% in 2007 premised on the anticipated improved performance of the
mining and agriculture sectors which are expected to grow by 9.4% and 4.9% in 2007.
"It is interesting to note that the original projection for agriculture was 23% and this has been revised substantially downwards
to 6.4%," he said.
Murerwa blamed the country's woes on sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe and members of inner circle by the United
States and the European Union for allegedly stifling democracy and human rights.
"It is no secret that the country remains under siege, facing sanctions from the West, characterised by lack of balance of
payments support, lines of credit, foreign direct investment and deliberate efforts to undermine economic turnaround programs,"
'A lot of words which mean nothing
Independent economist Eric Bloch dismissed the budget, however.
"It had a lot of words which mean nothing," Bloch said.
The southern African nation is labouring under record inflation of more than 1 000%, spiralling unemployment and an acute
shortage of food and essential goods.
As a result of a 6% decline in exports, the current account deficit is pegged at $543m this year, Murerwa said.
The current account is a key economic indicator of net inflows and outflows of payments, sending important signals about trends
such as the demand for national money and the relative performance of different areas of the economy.