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The 2021 Bulawayo Youth Symposium Declaration: Key Demands

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On the 3rd of October 2021, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), and Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) facilitated a Youth Symposium in Bulawayo under the theme, “Enhancing Youth Advocacy in Transparent and Accountable Public Finance Management through Simplification of the Findings of the Auditor General’s 2019 report, promoting Tax, Debt and Environmental Justice in Zimbabwe”. We, the youths who attended this symposium hereby made this declaration:

  1. Mining Sector

We recognize that Zimbabwe is a mineral resource-rich country boasting of over 40 minerals on global demand including gold, platinum, nickel, and diamonds among others. We believe that with proper public resources management, these minerals have the potential to transform the lives of the majority of Zimbabweans by creating employment for youths as well as contributing to the fiscal purse to support socio-economic development. We however, recognize the historical marginalization of youths in the mining sector and therefore, make the following demands:

(a) The mainstreaming of Youth mining activities through inclusion and improved access particularly, through making conditions favourable for youths to access loan facilities, equipment, and mining claims. This should be implemented with the provision of mining education and technical support, particularly, for young women. Further to that, the youths are demanding that people with disabilities must be included within the mining sector by setting aside mining areas that do not have a prohibitive terrain to them.

b) We demand that the government should urgently consider the need to implement and join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or adopt a homegrown equivalent of the standard. This is key in promoting transparency and accountability in the management of mineral revenue. This also includes transparency of levies paid by companies towards the carbon credits and carbon offsets (this is about the Zambezi gas and coal mine Zimbabwe)

d) We call upon the government to immediately cancel mining contracts for middleman investors in gold mining since these are the major players in gold smuggling and the flourishing of the black-market gold trade.

e) We call upon the formalization of the Artisanal Mining Sector (ASM) so that it can contribute to domestic resource mobilization through a transparent system of taxation. Also related to this, the youths demand the government to fast-track the Mines and Mineral Amendment Bill as it is beneficial in the ASM through its strategic means to unlock the government’s potential in the mining industry.

g) We, the Youth note with concern the rate the government is borrowing abroad through non-concessionary Resource-Backed Loans (RBLs) which are shrouded in secrecy. These RBLs have increased the appetite for borrowing by the government as shown by perpetual and massive growth in public debt over the years. This is in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act that advocates for transparency and accountability in the management of the country’s debts. Section 6 of the Act makes the operations of the Public Debt Management Office a public office which forms part of the Civil Service. The growth of debt to unsustainable levels shows the disrespect to Chapter 17 of the Constitution that clearly provide limits of State borrowing, public debt and State guarantees. The secrecy around RBLs is against the global consensus and push towards the adoption of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). We, therefore, urge the government to desist from these risky loans as defaulting may lead to the foreignization of the country’s minerals. This will affect the young generations including the yet unborn.

h) We also demand sustainable extraction of resources in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 14 (Life below water), and 15 (Life on land). Mineral resources are finite and they must be extracted in a manner that ensures that future generations will also benefit from these God-given resources. Further, we have a responsibility to safeguard the environment. The failure to do so will be a contravention of the Environment Management Act of 2002 as well as Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013 dealing with environmental rights. Some of these rights include the right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being; and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and the future generations. It will also fall foul to goal number 7 (environmentally sustainable and climate resilient economies and communities) of the Africa Union (AU)’s Agenda 2063. Hence, the government must closely monitor the operations of mining companies to avoid land degradation and pollution currently taking place at a great pace.

2. Taxation

Zimbabwe is in debt distress and struggling to pay its debts as evidenced by huge arrears. Statistics from the National Treasury show that of the US$10.5 billion (71.2% of GDP) external public debt being owed by Zimbabwe as of the end of December 2020, about US$6.5 billion are arrears. This huge debt overhang has crippled the revenue mobilization capacity of the government which is now resorting to massive taxation to fund its developmental programs. Ironically, the taxes being imposed by the government such as the 2% tax are regressive as the poor are paying relatively more than the rich. Hence, there is now a growing inequality gap between the rich and the poor who make the bulk of the Citizenry. Further, the tax system is not only regressive but has a lot of leakages. We, the youths are feeling the pinch of the austerity measures and therefore demand the following:

a) The government should desist from offering huge tax incentives in the form of tax exemptions, tax reductions, tax refunds & rebates, and tax credits to large foreign corporations. Most of these corporates especially, those in the mining sector are failing to offer meaningful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives such as the construction of roads, schools, and clinics despite the harm they are causing to the mining host communities. Even if they engage in CSR, their profit-driven motive will result in little being committed to community development as they are no legally binding provisions stating the amount of CSR to be given. We demand these large corporations to transparently pay their part in taxes thereby curbing tax avoidance and evasion.

b) For far too long, poor citizens especially, women and youths have disproportionately borne the tax burden. The youths are therefore, demanding a progressive tax system where everyone pays their fair share and this includes a demand for the implementation of the wealth tax as this has a direct impact on reducing income inequality.

c) The collected tax revenue should not only be used to advance corporate interest but also include programs that positively affect the general populace. We have been fascinated by the fact that spending on social services such as healthcare, water & sanitation, decent public housing, and public education has significantly declined over the years, notwithstanding the rising cost of living in the country. For instance, the cost of education has ballooned leaving many of us, the young people, out of school yet there are no employment opportunities. As such, the affected end up indulging in drugs, prostitution, early marriages, and other criminal activities. This diminishes their God-given potentials as they will be trapped in cycles of poverty. As such, we demand the government to prioritize spending on social programs such as education and vocational training as this allows inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

3. Inclusion

We, the Youths acknowledge the role and importance for us to participate in the discourses of economic governance. However, we are excluded from these discussions as we do not have a voice yet the decisions being made such as debt contraction, taxation, and mineral extraction have a bearing on our future. As such, we demand a key seat in the incubation, formulation, and implementation of these policies.  Further, we seek to be strategically positioned in organizations or institutions that are key in the driving of the economy by virtue of us being the leaders of the future.

4. Office of Auditor General (OAG) reports

In the interrogation of the findings of the 2019 OAG report, we observed massive abuse, misappropriation, and diversion of public resources into private hands by public officials. This is significantly affecting social service delivery, with an enormous impact on the youth. We the Youths, therefore, demand the following:

a) Full implementation of the OAG audit report recommendations to strengthen our porous PFM systems.

b) Full capacitation of accountability institutions such as the National Parliament, National Prosecuting Authority, and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) among others to curb rampant corruption.

c) The government must do away with the current shenanigans of the Catch-and-Release tactics of corrupt public officials. It is past time now for these looters to face the wrath of the law. The State must try at all costs to recover the looted funds.

5. Public Debt

We, the Youths are concerned with how the burden of debt is having negative impacts on our livelihoods as well as our future. The US$10.5 billion and ZW$20.9 billion domestic and external debt respectively is now unsustainable for the country. This unsustainable debt has massively shrunk the country’s fiscal space thereby inhibiting strong government support for social development programs. In 2016, the International Labor Organization (ILO) survey found that Zimbabwean youths are among the world’s poorest, living in extreme poverty. In 2018, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission posited that the youths are facing challenges such as unaffordable education, lack of access to health care due to excessive poverty, child marriages and sexual abuse of young women among others. Independent researchers have revealed that the general unemployment rate stands at more than 80% with many youth graduates resorting to vending and cross border trade activities. We, therefore, demand

a)A comprehensive debt audit to inform us about the true scale and nature of the public debt which is currently shrouded in secrecy. The audit will also function as a strong building block to build public discourse around the legitimacy of some contracted loans and determine whether they should be paid or not.

b) The government should desist from reliance on borrowing especially, using Resource-Backed Loans (RBLs) as they may lead to the foreignization of the country’s assets. There is need for a robust Debt Clearance Plan with creditors. Yes, the government is cash-trapped but other avenues such as Debt Restructuring or Refinancing must be explored. The settlement of debt is not only good for expanding the fiscal space but also improving the country’s credit ratings. This is key as these credit ratings are also used by private investors when deciding countries to invest their excess funds.

c) The youths also demand Local Authorities to have a compendious debt management policy.

6. The youths regret the stratification and castration of the church in terms of economic governance and call upon the church to continue playing its prophetic role of safeguarding and keeping watch on the dignity of the citizens. The church should through its structures, deepen the linkages with policymakers and together with the youths, demand full disclosure of Government incomes, expenditures, and the debts that are contracted.

7. Key Youth Asks are ; What happened to the judgment of Mlilo versus the Minister of finance that outlawed the 2% tax? Also, we ask;What happened to the operationalization of the Movable Property Interest Security Act? We as Youths demand answers to these questions which remain key in promoting transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.

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