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Zimbabwe bank chief reject killing economy

HARARE, Oct 13 – Zimbabwe\’s Reserve Bank chief Gideon Gono, who presided over the collapse of the local currency, insisted he was not to blame for "killing" the nation\’s economy, in an interview with AFP.

He again rejected calls for his resignation after President Robert Mugabe\’s unilateral decision to appoint him to a new five-year term last year — one of the major disputes facing the eight-month-old unity government.

"The immorality and irrationality of the whole argument is that \’Gono must go because he printed money and he killed this economy.\’ That\’s a white lie because no single individual can harm or kill an economy," he said.

Gono\’s tenure at the helm of the Reserve Bank saw inflation soar from already staggering four-digit figures when he took office in 2003 to numbers estimated in many multiples of billions last year.

He introduced new bank notes, sometimes every month, in denominations that reached 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars — even after repeatedly slashing digits to keep the numbers manageable.

The government finally abandoned the currency in January and now uses US dollars as its currency of reference.

Gono also stands accused of siphoning off state money into secret accounts in Asia and Europe, a charge he denies.

"Whatever I did had authorisation from the government of the day," said Gono, a former commercial banker.

He described his job as "a plumber mending burst pipes. I prevented this country from descending into chaos like Somalia."

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In his defence, Gono said "bureaucrats" blocked his proposals for economic reforms. He points out that he drew ire from party loyalists for criticising import and price controls that left most store shelves empty two years ago.

He insisted that feuding between ZANU-PF and the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has done more than his policies to hurt the economy, which has been shrinking since 1997.

"The greatest economic impediment has been political quarrels between ZANU-PF and MDC. There was never commonality of vision. While some were building, others were destroying," Gono said.

He also blamed western nations for undermining the economy with a travel ban, asset freeze and other targeted sanctions imposed on himself, Mugabe and other government officials, even though the sanctions don\’t affect trade and investment in Zimbabwe.

"The single biggest obstacle to our economic progress has been the imposition of sanctions against this country," Gono said.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed in September 2008, which led to the creation of the unity government in February, calls for Mugabe to "consult" with the MDC leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on major appointments.

Mugabe unilaterally reappointed Gono in October last year while still in talks with MDC over key government posts, but the central bank boss said he was properly named.

"I am definite that the removal of sanctions was mentioned in the GPA and not me," he said.

However, he conceded that unity deal was the road map against which the government is "legitimately being judged".

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Now, without control over the money supply, Gono has found his role sharply curtailed and his influence overshadowed by Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who was drawn from the MDC.

Gono is publicly feuding with Biti over control of 400 million dollars in resources from the International Monetary Fund, but said their sparring was purely professional.

"It\’s healthy to have professional differences," he said.

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