Innocent Ruwende and Samantha Chigogo Harare Bureau—
UNITED States of America Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Harry Thomas Jnr yesterday conceded that the illegal sanctions imposed on the country are hurting ordinary people and admitted his country never carried out a cost benefit analysis of the ruinious embargo. Responding to questions at a 263 Chat one-on-one session with the media and other organisations, Mr Thomas Jnr said the sanctions imposed on 98 individuals and 68 entities may have come with “unintended consequences.”
“We review sanctions everytime and they do not affect start-up companies but Government entities and parastatals. Therefore anyone can still do business with us. However, we have not carried out a study to ascertain the effects of the sanctions, but we have to try to sort out the unintended consequences of sanctions to the ordinary people out there.
“President (Barack Obama) will look at this (sanctions) basing on governance and economic reforms. We hope the Zimbabwean Government will make their policies clear and transparent to allow effective foreign investments as some private investors (from America) want to invest in the country,” he said.
Some local businessmen took the ambassador to task outlining how they were failing to do business with US companies because of the sanctions with former Hurungwe West legislator Temba Mliswa and Youth Advocacy for Reform and Democracy (Yard) leader telling the US envoy that sanctions were hurting ordinary Zimbabweans.
Ambassador Thomas Jnr is the first envoy to admit that sanctions may have a negative impact on the ordinary Zimbabweans with his predecessor Ambassador Bruce Wharton describing them as “targeted sanctions”.
Relations between Harare and Washington soured at the turn of the millennium after the US government imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in retaliation of a bilateral tiff between Zimbabwe and Britain over the land reform programme.
The US came up with a law, the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) to back the illegal sanctions outside the purview of the UN system. Ambassador Thomas Jnr said sanctions were US law and for them to be lifted both the Senate and the President of the United States have to agree to change the law.
He said President Obama had the capacity to waive in his humanitarian assistance saying his country was injecting $55 million towards food security. The US claim to the largest donor since 1980. For the sanctions to be removed, he said, political and economic reforms were a requirement.
“You have to implement your 2013 constitution fully for any positive move towards economic reforms. We are not funding any political party and we are not going to do that, it is up to the people of Zimbabwe to choose who they want, we can only assist in ways to draft new laws and economic friendly policies if asked to.”
“Business persons go where they think they can make money, where there is transparency so all blames should not be placed on the existence of sanctions, but I believe Zimbabweans are so bright and given an opportunity this can be a great economic engine. We have to redouble our efforts to educate people back in the US on the opportunities that come with Zimbabwe and on the meaning of the sanctions,” he said.
Ambassador Thomas Jnr hammered on the importance of national freedom saying the economic suffering of black people could never be compared to the colonial rule.
“No matter the challenges you are facing, you can never want to go back to the apartheid government you lived under before. That was a minority government and despite your struggle I think that freedom can’t be underestimated, I say that often to people who think that they are not always free. I never thought Obama would ever be the American president,” he said.
The envoy said the $200 million Embassy it was building in Harare, which looks like Great Zimbabwe, was a sign of his country’s commitment to Zimbabwe.
“We hired over 700 Zimbabweans for construction using Zimbabwe’s resources and we think with this we are trying to strengthen our relationship and impact in the country. This will be a fortress to show the kind of relationship we have with Zimbabweans,” he said.
The US ambassador said Zimbabwean businesses exported goods worth $65 million to America while US imported goods worth $49 million.
“I must admit I was surprised to find out that over 55,000 Americans visited Zimbabwe last year and about 50,000 of them went to Victoria Falls, which was a huge tourism boost. We want to see more of them visiting Hwange ,Nyanga and Mutare.
He said many business people were concerned about the introduction of the bond notes because they were not sure if they would be able to recoup their investments if they were to come to invest in Zimbabwe.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), has been intercepting money belonging to individuals and companies. In 2013 Industrial Development Corporation reportedly lost over $20 million to the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, while a Zimbabwean resident in Botswana had his $1,000 frozen.
The Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company, one of the IDCZ subsidiaries, still has $5 million frozen to date as the US applies its sanctions regime.
The Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe also lost over $30 million in revenue to OFAC. The West’s illegal sanctions regime is estimated to have cost Zimbabwe $42 billion in lost revenue over the past 13 years shrinking the economy by over 40 percent with deleterious effects on livelihoods and jobs.
15 IDCZ subsidiaries had not been able to do any telegraphic transactions with any international finance institution either to pay for raw materials or any other transactions. Olivine, another subsidiary of IDCZ lost a $2million loan it had secured from the PTA Bank to capitalise.
The sanctions not only target potential imports and exports, but other institutions which assist the IDCZ. The Treasury Department fined Barclay’s Bank PLC $2.5 million for “violating” the sanctions against IDCZ.