Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Zimbabwe's budget predicts growth and low inflation

A Zimbabwean buys a loaf of bread
Slimmed down: massive inflation has halted thanks to the US dollar

Zimbabwe's first budget since its unity government began sharing power 10 months ago predicts a healthy economic future for the country.

Finance minister Tendai Biti said the economy would grow by 7% next year, after 10 years of sharp contraction.

He said growth would come from key sectors such as agriculture and mining.

Zimbabwe's biggest economic problem, stratospheric inflation, has been all but halted since hard currencies, such as the US dollar, were allowed.

Turnaround

Finance Minister Mr Biti said there was no return in sight for the Zimbawean dollar - despite calls from President Mugabe and the central bank for its return. He said he could not see it coming back before 2012.

Mr Biti said government revenues were improving from about $4m in March to $90m in June. Despite the improvement, total revenues for the March-to-October period were $685m, below the government's estimate of $789.8m.

Some think the government's estimate of 7% growth next year is way too optimistic.

"We still expect a slight contraction and next year's number will be highly dependent on the political developments," said Christie Viljoen, an economist at NKC Independent Economists.

The International Monetary Fund however predicts an expansion of 6%.

This would be in sharp contrast to the rest of this decade's performance. The International Monetary Fund estimated that during the years of President Robert Mugabe's policy of reallocating land at the start of the decade, the economy shrank by more than 40%.

'Difficult life'

For many living in the country, life has improved dramatically. Inflation, which was out of control at the start of the year, is forecast to be in single figures this year and next.

Last year, it was barely possible to find anything in the shops, let alone have the millions of Zimbabwean dollars needed to pay for any basic goods.

As one shopper in the capital Harare told the BBC: "Life was difficult last year. Everything was too expensive for us. Now, the shops are full and a loaf costs 85 cents."

The power sharing agreement, between President Mugabe and his arch rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, is not an easy one. Mr Biti is from the prime minister's Movement for Democratic Change party, while the central bank governor, Gideon Gono, is a Zanu-PF supporter.

As Nyasha Chasakara, a Harare-based economic analyst put it: "A lot depends on whether the unity government holds and continues to maintain the political stability needed to continue restoring confidence in the economy."



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