Ms Mala Roche also joins us as Trócaire's liaison officer for the region. She is based in Maynooth.
I have a brief summary which members of the joint committee have in front of them and will elaborate on some of the points made in it. Mr. Nkomo will elaborate on the particular case of Jestina Mukoko. Members can take the opportunity afterwards to ask questions on any part of our presentation or anything beyond it.
As regards the contextual overview, it is an ever changing environment in Zimbabwe. I have been out of the country for three weeks. When I started to prepare for this meeting, the situation had changed radically, even in that short period, especially because the government of national unity has started to perform more in the last few weeks. It was established on 26 January, after a long waiting period — since September 2008. There was stalemate and nervousness in the country about what was going to happen. Certainly, there was a feeling on whether Mr. Tsvangirai really had much choice. There was an opinion that perhaps he should not have gone into government, but the humanitarian and economic situation had reached such a level that the country was absolutely crippled; therefore, it was a way forward.
We have highlighted some of the things that have happened since the establishment of the government of national unity and even since this summary was written, other events may have happened. What has been done since 29 January? The Chairman has referred to the short-term economic recovery plan which has been developed and, while welcome, it presents many issues. The limitations within Zimbabwe to deal with its own problems to date are obvious. Trade in the Zimbabwean dollar has been suspended. The most recent Zimbabwean currency note I saw was a Z$10 trillion note. In January a Z$100 trillion note was issued and at the end of January it was worth US$2. It has been devalued in the meantime. The currency should be stabilised in time but we are not yet in that position.
There has been more dialogue with the IMF. Price liberalisation has also been introduced, which is making a huge difference to goods coming into the country. When people talked about Zimbabwe in the past year, there were times when there was nothing in the country. When one went into a shop or supermarket, there was absolutely nothing available, or many goods that nobody wanted but nothing else. Goods are now available in the market but some prices are inflated. We must also remember that to buy these goods one is using foreign currency, to which a limited number of the population have access. That in itself is an issue but the fact is that some food is coming into the country. I am talking about retail supermarkets, not humanitarian food aid, which is a different issue.
The grain marketing board's monopoly has been brought to an end, which is positive in terms of humanitarian aid. The monopoly affected the volume of grain in the country and that could be distributed at the crucial time before the hungry period which started last September, which was very early. We do not just do food programmes, we always have a seed element to humanitarian programmes but we were unable to get the seed. We would now be harvesting if we had been able to get it.
The allowance paid to civil servants is $100 a month. However, the cost of the basic needs basket — what people require to survive for one month — is recognised as being $350 in Harare. Obviously, it is positive for people who have had nothing for a long time to receive $100 per month but we would like to see matters develop.
There has been some control of hate speech in the media. As I said, I have been out of Zimbabwe for a few weeks; therefore, Mr. Nkomo may wish to talk about that matter, on which there can be different opinions.
A parliamentary committee on constitutional reform has been established. Civil society is disappointed about the level of its involvement and is pushing for greater participation in decision making on constitutional reform, the key issue in Zimbabwe, with agreement in the unity government on developing the constitution and holding elections within 24 months of the date of the agreement. Therefore, we are talking about September 2010 as a possible date for the next elections.
The first phase has also begun of decentralisation and the minimisation of state controls. Steps have been taken and things are happening, the message that should come from this meeting. It is not the case that no steps have been taken.
Looking at the political parties, Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC are the key players. According to some reports, Zanu-PF sees this as a transition period, as opposed to the next stage in government. This has been reflected in the way in which it is dealing with some issues, including the making of unilateral decisions. I will come to what the parties have failed to do. A push still needs to be made to recognise that the government of national unity is the way forward.
What have the parties failed to do? We have seen an invasion of the few hundred farms run by the white farmers still in the country. There have recently been attacks on them and it has not been possible to bring them to an end. There have been some appointments that the MDC sees as irregular. Two, in particular, give rise to concern — the appointment of the attorney general and the head of the reserve bank. They are seen as irregular, but the government has failed to deal with them. In addition, Mr. Mugabe is still making unilateral decisions. Prime Minister Tsvangirai can declare them null and void, but in many cases nothing is happening beyond this. We are at the start of a longer period of change.
I mention a particular case in the bullet points. Nelson Chamisa, an MDC minister, was partly stripped of his powers as Minister for Information Technology and Communications, a key ministry. If power over communications is removed in an undemocratic manner, we need to be aware of this.
On the need to stop security service arrests of MDC supporters, the number of such arrests has decreased significantly. More important, however, is that those who have been arrested — I refer specifically to the case of Jestina Mukoko — have been released on bail. However, the bail conditions are stringent and passports are removed. The latest information available to me is that in the case of Jestina Mukoko the deeds of her house were also taken.
During my meeting with Ms Mukoko a few weeks ago she spoke strongly about her commitment to working for human rights and a positive and bright future for Zimbabwe. She also said fear was the one issue that was holding her back. The fear among those who have been targeted in this manner is palpable. They remain in custody in that they are under house arrest and unable to continue their work.
The committee established with members from the three parties to monitor developments does not seem to be acknowledged when it makes statements about some of the decisions that have been made and which may not have been agreed by the three parties.
I have referred to the failure to hold trials for those who have been abducted. New radio stations and newspapers have still not been registered. Communication, freedom of speech and press freedom are key to the future of Zimbabwe both in the short term and the long term. Roy Bennett has still not been sworn in as Minister for Agriculture.
An illustration of the current failures is that passports which are a symbol of freedom are not available to the majority of the population on cost grounds. The price of an emergency passport has been set at $675. One cannot get a regular passport because those who apply for them are left waiting for months or years.
With regard to the political situation, new parties are starting up. Members may recall that Simba Makoni unsuccessfully ran for election in the first round of the recent elections. He appears to be mounting a comeback and a new party which will appeal to a middle class, urban population will be launched on 13 May. ZAPU has also been reformed. These developments are still a work in progress, as the impact the new parties will have remains to be seen. One fear is that they may divide and weaken the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai's support. This is a key issue because such a development could allow ZANU to increase its power in the government.
I will now address the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. The incidence of cholera continues to increase, albeit at a much slower rate than previously. There should never have been an outbreak of cholera which was due to a breakdown in basic services, particularly water and sanitary services. While the number of cases is reducing, cases are recurring in some areas where the disease had been eliminated. This is due to services not improving.
HIV-AIDS is a major problem and while the incidence has reduced according to some figures, the reasons for this reduction need to be examined. They include the high death rate and other factors. HIV-AIDS remains a major problem which makes people more vulnerable.
The health and education systems have virtually collapsed and unemployment exceeds94%. The harvest is also below average this year. As members may have read, food is available but given that this is the harvest period, the question which arises is how long the food which has been harvested will last. Last year we had to start feeding in September. Will we have to start feeding earlier this year or will food stocks last until September? Either way, we know people will have to be fed next year. In January and February this year 7.5 million had to be fed and we will continue to have to feed people for at least the next year, if not the year thereafter.
I will not elaborate on our work in Zimbabwe. We were asked to allude to our work in the country which is very relevant because we receive substantial support from the Government for our work in the country through the MAPS and the EHAF. More recently, one of our projects to tackle the level of cholera was funded under the ERF.
The human rights and governance programme involves work with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and other human rights organisations. The programme has a budget of approximately €600,000. All the budgets to which I refer are approximate because they relate to 2009, whereas our financial year extends from 1 March to the end of February. We have six partners and the teams work on the issues of transitional justice, political and constitutional reforms — this is key this year — socio-economic policy and advocacy.
The budget for the humanitarian programme is significant, largely as a result of the support we are receiving from Irish Aid this year. Irish Aid has established a structure to allow us to access this support and our budget for this year is approximately €1.2 million. We have five partners in this area, with food aid the key element and main item of expenditure. We also offer livelihood support with a view to reducing dependence on food aid. HIV-AIDS and gender are key elements of the programme, as they are in all programmes. We work in the area of disaster risk reduction to the greatest extent possible and hope to be able to engage in a livelihoods programme, although the transition to the programme will not be made this year.
While our HIV-AIDS programme is surviving, it may be affected by budget cuts. This year our budget for the programme is €200,000 and we have three partners. We are gradually moving to deal with the policy and advocacy aspects of access, as well as prevention and treatment.
The third element of the presentation relates to the challenges and risks to implementation of programmes. While this is not solely an issue for Trócaire, we will obviously take an organisational perspective on the issue. There is a risk that the political environment will change for a variety of reasons resulting in further economic decline. There is also a risk that the space available for NGO and civil society activity may be restricted. For a number of months last year such activity was banned and there remains considerable fear in Zimbabwe that one must play ball to be able to continue to do one's work. We clearly need to challenge the Government of Zimbabwe on the manner in which the humanitarian crisis is being addressed.
A further risk is that the economy will fail to recover as quickly as hoped, even if the political environment is positive. Zimbabwe is on a cusp and its economy could move in either direction. There is also a risk that advocacy work and participation by civil society could have an adverse impact, as we have noted. Some of our partners, for example, have been challenged and the risk is that this will continue. We are not yet seeing the opening up of the space of civil society.
There is a risk that the humanitarian problem will remain overwhelmingly acute. However, this may change if steps are taken in the right direction. Zimbabwe has structures in place which many other countries in Africa do not possess. For this reason, change could take place quicker than would be the case elsewhere if the correct decisions were taken and the right policies adopted. This is a key advantage in Zimbabwe and one of the reasons there may be a greater focus on quicker change. While quick change is possible, we must be careful about how this is done and how we support it.
HIV-AIDS, to which I have referred, is a risk because the number of people with HIV is growing. This impacts on the fabric of society and the vulnerability of individuals.
The economic, monetary and banking environment has obviously changed a great deal in recent months, which could mean there is scope for financial mismanagement. There has been much financial mismanagement from a programme perspective. We monitor that very carefully. We have financial consultants in place, something we do not have in every country, because it is such a complex environment.
One can imagine a programme officer in Zimbabwe having to work simultaneously with the Zimbabwean dollar, the US dollar and the euro, and given the rate the Zimbabwean dollar was changing at, it became a very complex way of working. It became difficult to purchase food or whatever else. The consultants reported to us and were transparent about everything they did. They are the challenges and risks.
Regarding Jestina, she remains on bail and her case will be heard again on April 26. I will hand over to Mr. Nkomo who will elaborate more on that issue before we stop and open to the floor.