THE standing committee on finance agreed yesterday to ask Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to appear before it to provide more detail on the R900 million loan reportedly extended to Zimbabwe to assist with its upcoming national election.

DA finance spokesman Tim Harris said he had submitted a parliamentary question to the minister to clarify the terms of the supposed funding.

“If we indeed intend providing the loans to Zimbabwe then Minister Gordhan has a duty to explain to South Africans the motivation for extending such generous financial support.

“There are three main issues that urgently need to be clarified: the motivation for the loan, the terms of the repayment and any conditionality attached to it.”

“We believe that any financial support provided to Zimbabwe should be conditional on the money being spent on specifically defined projects that will improve the prospects for real democracy in Zimbabwe through free and fair elections.”

Under no circumstances, said Harris, should South Africa tolerate extending credit without strict political conditions.

Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus was also asked about the Zimbabwe loan when she appeared before the standing committee on finance yesterday.

She said: “We need to be clear. This is a government to government discussion. Should there be any agreement on terms and conditions, whatever they are, they would be sorted out at government level.”

The responsibility for this would most likely be delegated to the Treasury. “Once that is done we would simply be the executing arm, we are not involved in the discussions… we don’t know any more than you do. I thus can’t answer your questions about the conditions,” she said to David Ross, another DA MP on the committee.

It seems that the Treasury – and Gordhan – is the right place to go for answers. Gordhan met Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti in September last year to discuss Zimbabwe’s loan request.

Gold price

On April 4 Thomson Reuters GFMS launched its Gold Survey 2013, predicting that the price of gold would top $1 800 (R16 000) an ounce by year end. Of course, the year has a long way to run but the timing of the forecast was unfortunate.

The metal, which was selling at $1 554 on the day the prediction was published, traded yesterday at $1 380. The metal price peaked at more than $1 900 in 2011.

The latest tumble is partly a reflection of declining commodity values. However, gold has a special status as a safe haven investment when liquidity is high and inflation threatens. With walls of money washing round the world its status should have been secure.

But investors suddenly decided last week that they had too much gold on their hands and the price tumbled to a low of $1 348 on Monday’s.

A report yesterday on CNN said the 24 percent slide in the gold price since its peak had come with steadily rising US home prices.

“And, since the start of the year, the US stock market has soared to record highs as investors turned to riskier investments. But, while the US appears to be doing better, signs in China and Europe look so troubling that investors don’t seem very convinced gold will guard them from losses.”

Another reason floated by observers is that investors feared gold sales by Cyprus and other heavily indebted countries.

The most reasonable explanation is that investors took fright at the publication on Friday of the minutes of the earlier meeting of the US Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).

The minutes revealed that some members saw an improvement in the economy and institutions saw this as a sign that the programme of monetary easing would be curtailed in following FOMC meetings.

Pollution

International consumer goods companies should be applauded for working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste.

Although they are fighting over markets and would do whatever it takes to grow those markets, companies producing soaps, lotions, detergents and nappies, among other products, are setting themselves up as examples of how responsible manufacturers should behave.

Although some environmentalists are not totally sold on the actions, especially on the use of water by such companies, at least something has been done. But, for these programmes to be more effective they should be passed on to consumers.

Education on how to properly dispose of certain products such as aerosols and other hazardous items should take priority.

Unilever and Procter & Gamble (P&G) are among the companies that have focused on reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions. P&G achieved zero manufacturing waste at its 45 sites worldwide while Unilever announced that since 2008 the company had cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1 million tons at its manufacturing and logistics operations.

Unilever said this was equivalent to taking 250 000 cars off the road.

Unilever group manufacturing sustainability director John Maguire said carbon emissions and climate change continued to present businesses with significant challenges, but they also offered opportunities.

The group said its eco-efficiency programme had avoided more than e300 million (R3.55 billion) in costs since 2008.

Meanwhile, P&G has ensured that 99 percent of all material entering its plants leaves as finished products or is recycled, reused or converted to energy.

With all the noise over climate change and greening the economy, companies now go out of their way to calculate the amount of waste reduction they can achieve. But environmentalists believe this is not enough. It would be interesting to know how much companies that are crowing about their reductions still emit.

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Donwald Pressly, Ethel Hazelhurst and Nompumelelo Magwaza.