Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe's finance minister, said his country was almost broke after paying out civil service salaries last week.
Ever get that gut-wrenching feeling after paying bills that there isn't much left to go around?
If you have, then you can empathize with the Zimbabwean government, which had only $217 last week after paying its civil servants.
Though the government soon transferred more money into its account, the scarcity is due to a paralysis of Zimbabwe's finances, finance minister Tendai Biti explained at a press conference Tuesday. In the last decade, the nation has been wracked by an economically toxic mix of hyperinflation, land confiscation and investor fear.
Biti even told the journalists that some of them may have more money than the Zimbabwean government, AFP reports.
With an epochal election and a constitutional referendum on the horizon — and no way to pay for either — Zimbabwe has no choice but to ask the international community for help, Biti says. The government must pick up the tab for the $104 million election and fund the $3.8 billion national budget for 2013.
"We're in a challenging position; we're a small economy and we've got huge things to be done but … the minister for finance of Greece has an even worse story," Biti told the BBC.
Economic trouble began for the southern African nation around the millennium when President Robert Mugabe, ranked by Parade as the world's worst dictator in 2009, began seizing white-owned farms to correct what he believed were colonial imbalances. All told, Mugabe snatched 39 highly productive plots — and the land of 4,000 farmers — and handed them to black workers and loyal supporters, many of whom had no agricultural experience.
According to The Daily Mail, Mugabe's seizures cost Zimbabwe more than $11 billion in lost production during the last decade. The country's food production dropped 70 percent during that period.
Once seen as the "breadbasket" of Africa, Zimbabwe in 1980 had a higher-valued dollar than the United States. Investors and economists have long marveled over the country's lush platinum and diamond mines, but those rich reserves today are compromised by rampant corruption of the industries and government tax collection.
After hyperinflation rattled the country over much of the last decade — reaching as high as 500 billion percent in 2008 and leading to the issuance of $100 trillion bills — its economy began to stabilize after a 2008 election that introduced a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and two opposition politicians.
This year, the country's economy is expected to grow by 5 percent, Biti said, but public finances and government debt are still a mess due to high labor costs, a lack of liquidity and unstable electricity supplies.
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