The British government was on Thursday quizzed about why it wanted to bail out President Robert Mugabe’s government in view of what British peers said was his appalling human rights record.
Several members of the House of Lords asked why the British Embassy in Harare had facilitated a meeting between a British peer and businessman, Lord Mandelson, and Zimbabwe Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.
Mandelson is described as the chairman of Lazard International, which on its website says it has remained a trusted advisor to governments, financial institutions, public and private retirement plans, and individuals around the world since 1848.
One peer even asked why Chinamasa was not under British sanctions.
Below is the full question and answer session in The House:
Lord Oates– To ask Her Majesty’s Government what guidance they provide to United Kingdom financial institutions regarding the provision of bailout funds to the government of Zimbabwe.
Baroness Goldie (Con)– My Lords, there is no bailout for the Zimbabwean Government and no British taxpayer money is used to fund that Government. The Government of Zimbabwe are in discussion with private sector banks to arrange a financial package to clear their debt arrears to the international financial institutions. We do not provide specific guidance about the provision of funds to Zimbabwe, but if asked, we would discuss the situation, highlighting the financial and political risks of operating in Zimbabwe.
Lord Oates (LD)-I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. She will be aware of the deep disquiet among people in Zimbabwe at the news that the British embassy in Harare had facilitated a meeting this year between the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, chairman of Lazard International, and Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa. I am sure the Minister will recognise that the provision of any bailout funds to the ZANU-PF regime in Zimbabwe will only prolong the misery and suffering of the Zimbabwean people. It will inevitably be used to fund the salaries of the Zimbabwean armed forces and the Zimbabwe Republic Police force—salaries which are overdue at present. These are the very organs of state that are currently in violation of the constitution of Zimbabwe, in defiance of the orders of the High Court of Zimbabwe and committing gross human rights abuses against the people of Zimbabwe. Will the Minister therefore give an unambiguous statement to this House, and more importantly to the ZANU-PF regime, that we as a people and a Government will oppose any further funds to the Zimbabwean Government until they have demonstrated a sustained adherence to the constitution of Zimbabwe and an end to the gross human rights abuses of the people of Zimbabwe?
Baroness Goldie- I thank the noble Lord for his extensive observation. He makes an important point. There are justifiable concerns about human rights, governance and the political system in Zimbabwe. I reassure him that the British Government persistently and resolutely make representations to the Zimbabwean Government about our concerns, asking that the rule of law be observed and that democratic rights be respected. I should point out to the noble Lord that we have an ambassadorial presence in Harare, and that is very important. It is a necessary diplomatic conduit for the work that the British Government do—not in funding the Zimbabwean Government but, for example, in providing invaluable help for infrastructure projects by working with implementing partners and NGOs. However, at the end of the day, what other financial institutions choose to do with a foreign Government is not really under the control of the British Government.
Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)– My Lords, one thing that is clear is that the human rights situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse. There is a lot that the United Kingdom Government can do, particularly in terms of sanctions against individuals, which they currently impose on the President of Zimbabwe. Can the noble Baroness explain why the Finance Minister, Mr Chinamasa, has had that embargo removed? Why are we not exerting more leverage and using the authority that we have now to restore human rights?
Baroness Goldie- The noble Lord makes an important point about human rights. We consider the human rights situation to be stable but fragile, and, as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, we will continue to raise concerns about individual cases. We monitor the situation closely and are able to do so because of our embassy in Harare. We regularly call, both bilaterally and in partnership with EU member states, for an end to all abuses and for the restoration of internationally accepted human rights standards. In relation to sanctions, I reassure the noble Lord that there is an arms embargo against Zimbabwe and active sanctions against President Mugabe and his wife, Grace. That extends to travel bans and all financial dealings, and their assets in the EU are frozen.
Lord St John of Bletso (CB)- My Lords, with the rapidly deteriorating macroeconomic situation in Zimbabwe and the growing social unrest, what can Her Majesty’s Government do to support much-needed reforms? More specifically, to what degree are the Government of Zimbabwe genuine in their re-engagement with the West? Does the Minister agree that any financial support to Zimbabwe should be tied to radical reforms in the country?
Baroness Goldie– On the general front, in relation to Zimbabwe’s indebtedness to the World Bank, the UK is party to that organisation and we have made it clear that the indebtedness must be cleared. However, that will not of itself trigger a resumption of relations. We have made it clear that there has to be progress on the very type of reforms to which I alluded earlier. We are endeavouring to support the people of Zimbabwe, who are vulnerable and in a fragile condition. I referred earlier to some of the support that the British Government have been able to provide. We have been able to provide food security for over 1 million people; we have been able to help hundreds of thousands of children to attend primary school; we have been able to assist with clean water and sanitation projects; and we have been helping to reduce the maternal mortality ratio. Those are all moves that we achieve and on which we make progress not by dealing directly with the Zimbabwean Government but by using our implementing partners and other agencies to deliver help to the very people who need support but currently do not get it from their own Government.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)- My Lords, when the time comes, but not before that time, will the Government encourage the Commonwealth authorities and the Commonwealth Secretariat to consider welcoming Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth family of nations?
Baroness Goldie– My noble friend’s aspiration is positive. Ultimately, there would be a desire to do that but the Zimbabwean Government would have to achieve a very great deal before we were able to enter into a more formal relationship. There is an overdue need for serious fundamental reform. We have to have evidence that the Government in Zimbabwe are themselves serious about addressing these reforms, and we need to see visible and tangible evidence of that before any further relationship can be contemplated.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD)-My Lords, perhaps I may draw the noble Baroness’s attention to the original point of this Question. I myself have benefited from facilitation by our embassies and missions abroad, as many other Members of the House of Lords may have done. However, does she not accept that there was a slight error of judgment on the part of our high commissioner in Zimbabwe in facilitating a well-known lobbying group to carry out business on behalf of a financial institution with a Government who are legendary only for their human rights abuses and deep financial corruption?
Baroness Goldie- If the noble Baroness is alluding to the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, to the visit by the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, I should make it clear that the noble Lord visited Zimbabwe in a personal capacity in February of this year. He had been in a private engagement in South Africa. He simply asked the British Government if he could be helpful in promoting their objectives in Zimbabwe and, given his experience, our Government said that he could reinforce the case for reform, which I think is what we all want to see. To that end, the British embassy in Harare facilitated the meeting, which was attended by the British ambassador. It was constructive and focused on the need for economic and rule-of-law forms. That is precisely the kind of dialogue that is essential if we are to see any progress made.