Zimbabwe's finance minister has taken a hard look at the cash strapped country's bank accounts - and discovered it only has £138 and 34 pence left.
Tendai Biti made the announcement at press conference yesterday declaring: 'Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 in government coffers.'
Mr Biti went on to tell the shocked news reporters that they were individually likely to have healthier bank balances than the state's. 'The government finances are in paralysis state at the present moment', Mr Biti admitted.
However, Mr Biti today contradicted his claims by saying that the poor state of the country's finances only lasted a day. Speaking to the BBC, he said the following day about $30m of revenue was paid into the government's accounts.
Mr Biti claims he made the remarkable revelations to highlight that the government could not finance the constitutional referendum and election that are planned for sometime later this year.
Speaking to the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme, he claimed his statement had been misreported.
He said: 'You journalists are mischievous and malicious - the point I was making was that the Zimbabwean government doesn't have the funds to finance the election, to finance the referendum,' he said.'To dramatise the point, I simply made a passing reference metaphorically that when we paid civil servants last week on Thursday we were left with $217... but even the following day we had $30m in our account.'
The stunning confession about the country's poor financial state is the culmination of years of ruinous economic policy by Zimbabwe's despotic President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1980.A decade ago Mugabe, now aged 88, launched his deeply controversial policy of expropriating white-owned farmland and handing it to blacks.
The policy, which saw 4,000 white farmers forcibly kicked off their land, was economically disastrous as in many cases the farms' new owners lacked the skills or inclination to run the farms properly.
It also demolished investor confidence in the country, paralysed production, and prompted international sanctions.
As a result, Zimbabwe - which was once the fertile 'bread basket' of southern Africa and possesses fantastic mineral wealth - is now one of the continent's poorest countries.
Three-quarters of the population live on less than £1 a day and over half of the work force is unemployed.
In 2008 hyperinflation in the country reached the astronomical figure of 230 million per cent - meaning that paper money became worthless almost as soon as it was printed. The former British colony now uses US dollars.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Biti claimed that the state's dire lack of cash means it does not have enough money to organise the constitutional referendum.
'We will be approaching the international community to assist us in this regard', Mr Biti said.
Following a disputed election in 2008, Zimbabwe is now ruled by a coalition of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
However, the arrangement is marred by political infighting and is widely considered to be ineffective.
Mugabe is aged 88 and is reported to have pancreatic cancer.
He however insists that he is the only person who can rule the country effectively.
Rather than acknowledge his own role in the country's economic collapse, Mugabe blames the West, which has imposed economic sanctions in protest at his increasingly autocratic rule.
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