Original source:

Zimbabwe’s new finance minister slashed the country’s 2009 budget and announced a raft of pro-big business reforms after talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Tendai Biti, who took office last month when his Western-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party joined President Robert Mugabe in a unity government, cut government spending plans from $1.7 billion (£1.2bn) proposed by the then acting finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to $1 billion (£690 million).

Addressing parliament on Wednesday, he urged Zimbabweans to accept the ‘grim realities’ of the revised budget, which will restrict the government’s already limited ability to cope with 94 per cent unemployment, hyperinflation and food shortages.

He has scrapped all foreign currency surrender requirements, which compelled holders of foreign currency trading licences to remit five per cent of their monthly proceeds to the Reserve Bank.

And customs duty has been slashed from 65 per cent to 40 per cent.

Mr Biti pledged to strengthen private property rights and end the occupation of agricultural estates by small farmers.

He also declared that the government is poised to sell off some of its ‘family silverware,’ particularly in the communication sector, and announced his intention to open up the health sector to privateers.

MDC secretary for finance Tapiwa Mashakada hailed the budget as ‘a step in the right direction.

‘We hope that the international community can see that the Zimbabwean government is busy at work and must be supported,’ he declared.

Western countries have pledged to deliver an ‘aid package’ to the country when they are satisfied that the MDC exercises power within the unity government.

Mr Biti has met IMF officials four times in recent weeks.

They reportedly called for ‘fundamental structural reforms’ involving privatisations and enhanced property rights.