President Robert MugabeJust days ago, Zimbabwe's finance minister Tendai Biti told reporters that the cash-strapped African government's account balance was just $217 (£138.34).

Now, however, he claims that government accounts hold some $30 million. We take a closer look at what's been happening under President Robert Mugabe's rule.


According to the Daily Mail newspaper, Biti told a recent press conference: "Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 in government coffers."

He then went on to claim that the shocked journalists in attendance probably had more money in their own personal bank accounts than the Zimbabwean government. "The government finances are in paralysis state at the present moment," he added.

He now claims that 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, he said that about $30 million of revenue was paid into the government's accounts the following day.

However, his previous comments have sparked a new debate about despotic President Mugabe's ruinous economic policy.

Zimbabwe's financial problems, which appear to have spiralled in recent years, are nothing new.

When I visited the country about 10 years ago, the poverty-stricken inhabitants of Victoria Falls were already dealing with hyperinflation that meant that while $1 was worth just 53 Zimbabwean dollars at the bank, the street rate was closer to 1,400 Zimbabwean dollars.

Tellingly, however, the tremendous queues at the local petrol station and desperate skirmishes outside the undersupplied grain store were halted on the day that Mugabe drove through town - simply by closing them down for 24 hours.

Apparently, the President - or his advisers - did not want to be confronted with the harsh reality of the starving population in this, the former "bread basket" of Africa.

My visit was a year or so after Mugabe launched his policy of expropriating white-owned farmland and handing it to local blacks.

Whatever your thoughts on the fairness of this policy, it was economically disastrous as in many cases the farms' new owners lacked the skills or inclination to run the farms properly.

Hopes that the coalition of Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which came to power in 2008, would set the country back on the right road have also been dashed by political infighting.

But for his part, Mugabe continues to blame the West for Zimbabwe's problems due to economic sanctions imposed in protest to his rule.