Two hundred and seventeen US dollars – the equivalent of £138. That is all that remains in the public account of the Zimbabwean government, a bewildered finance minister has announced.
The paltry amount cast doubt over claims of a slow economic recovery and raised fresh questions about the fate of the country's diamond revenues – officials say almost $685m worth were sold last year.
"Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 [left] in government coffers," Tendai Biti, the finance minster, told journalists in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday, noting that some of them have healthier bank balances than the state. "The government finances are in a paralysis state at the present moment. We are failing to meet our targets."
Zimbabwe's elections agency has said it needs $104m to organise polls this year. Biti added: "The government has no money for elections … We will be approaching the international community to assist us in this regard, but it's important that government should also do something."
Zimbabwe's economy boomed after independence in 1980 but took a hit in 1997 when the president, Robert Mugabe, gave in to pressure from war veterans waging violent protests for pensions. From 2000 the seizure of white-owned farms led to chaos in the agriculture sector and the economy shrank by half. In 2008 hyperinflation of 231,000,000% broke the national currency and left millions of people hungry.
But the adoption of the US dollar and South African rand appeared to have brought a measure of stability. The government's national budget for this year stands at $3.8bn and the economy is projected to grow 5%.