Page last updated at 20:33 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

New Zimbabwe minister blames bank

Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Harare, Zimbabwe, 13 February 2009
Biti said South African support would be key for Zimbabwe's recovery

Zimbabwe's central bank is at the heart of the nation's economic decay, new Finance Minister Tendai Biti says, pledging to reform the institution.

With its economy in free fall, Zimbabwe would need South African help to recover, the Movement for Democratic Change politician told Reuters.

Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate, a virtually worthless currency, and 90% unemployment.

Meanwhile, MDC politician Roy Bennett is due to appear in court on Monday.

Mr Bennett, the MDC's treasurer, was arrested on Friday shortly before President Robert Mugabe swore in Mr Biti along with other new ministers of the country's unity government.

He is charged with conspiring to acquire arms with a view to disrupting essential services and remains in custody, his party said.

Totally discredited

Mr Biti said he would present a new budget to parliament and urged Western donors to help rebuild Zimbabwe.

"The Reserve Bank has totally discredited itself," he told Reuters in an interview. "We must accept that the Reserve Bank is at the core of this economic decay."

Five million people - almost half population - need food aid
Unemployment of 90%
About 3,400 people killed in cholera outbreak

He would soon hold a meeting with central bank chief Gideon Gono, an ally of Mr Mugabe's, he said, although he gave no further details.

Potential Western donors have stressed the need for Zimbabwe to have a stable government that is implementing financial reforms before providing it with economic support.

And Mr Biti said South African assistance, either through budgetary support or lines of credit, would be "key" in facilitating Zimbabwe's economic recovery.

But he rejected South African President Kgalema Motlanthe's suggestion that Zimbabwe adopt its southern neighbour's currency, the rand.

"Using the rand on its own without addressing fundamentals that have led to this economy where we are will not work," he told Reuters in an interview.

Charges changed?

Mr Bennett had been picked by his party to be deputy agriculture minister in the new unity government.

An earlier charge of treason against the deputy ministerial nominee was dropped on Sunday.

Image from April 2008 showing Roy Bennett with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in South Africa
Mr Bennett, here with PM Tsvangirai, had only just returned to Zimbabwe

His lawyer, Trust Maanda, said the treason case did not "hold water".

There was no confirmation from the police or justice officials that the charges had been changed.

Under a power-sharing deal agreed after months of talks following disputed elections, President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF is to have 15 posts and the two factions of the MDC 16 posts in the government.

Mr Bennett is one of more than 30 MDC supporters and other activists who have been detained over the past couple of months.

A white farmer who lost his property under Mr Mugabe's land reform programme, Mr Bennett recently returned to Zimbabwe after more than two years in South Africa, where he fled after police sought his arrest in connection with an alleged plot to kill Mr Mugabe.

The latest charges would appear to be linked to this alleged plot, reports the BBC's southern Africa correspondent, Peter Biles.

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