* Finance minister says comfortable with foreign bank
* President Mugabe has focused on black economic empowerment
* Economy facing severe liquidity problems
HARARE, April 23 Zimbabwe will let foreigners
keep majority stakes in banks for now because locals have no
money to buy shares, the finance minister said on Wednesday,
signalling a pause in President Robert Mugabe's black economic
But Patrick Chinamasa said the government would not amend on
plans to force foreign mining companies to sell at least 51
percent of their local holdings to Zimbabweans under the
empowerment programme, known locally as indigenisation.
The southern African country, which ditched its
hyper-inflated local currency in 2009, is facing a serious
dollar crunch as a result of lack of foreign donor support and
investment, and some smaller local banks are struggling to stay
The law obliging foreign-owned firms, including mines and
banks, to sell at least 51 percent of their stakes to blacks was
passed as long ago as 2008.
During campaigning for last July's election, which he won in
a landslide, Mugabe promised to enforce it under the empowerment
Chinamasa said that, with severe liquidity shortages in the
economy, foreign banks had the capacity to negotiate lines of
credit required to revive local industries and agriculture.
"I am quite comfortable with foreign ownership in the banks
because at this time our people have no capacity to buy equity,"
Chinamasa told Reuters.
"But it is temporary and we are not looking for a
Foreign banks active in Zimbabwe include units of Barclays
Plc and Standard Chartered Plc as well as
South Africa's Standard Bank and Nedbank. None
have made investments in the country's locally-owned banks.
Chinamasa said Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment
Minister Francis Nhema would present the cabinet with plans
defining thresholds and timelines for foreign-owned companies to
comply with the empowerment law.
Chinamasa declined to say if the ownership law would be
amended but said the rules for the mining sector would remain
"We have been very clear on the mining sector that this is
our resource and our people have to benefit by being major
shareholders," he said.
Nhema told Reuters in an interview in November that Zimbabwe
would not soften its drive to force foreign-owned mines to sell
majority stakes to blacks, although he signalled flexibility
with banks if they agreed to lend more.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by John Stonestreet)