EVER since the dollarisation of our national economy, it has become common public opinion that ‘things have improved’. This improvement is directly related to the fact that goods are now available on the supermarket shelves and elsewhere.
What is, however, not questioned is whether these now available goods or services are accessible or affordable to the majority of Zimbabwe’s low income earners. Instead, what is now apparent is that both the government and big businesses are functioning on the basis of the dictum ‘take it or leave it, so long as it’s better than what was there before dollarisation’.
For many economists, there would be nothing fundamentally wrong with the above cited dictum. In fact it fully serves to augment the purpose for which business exists -- which is profit no matter the circumstance. And this is why since the introduction of a multi-currency national economy, business has been milking the meagre incomes of the majority mercilessly.
Some readers might argue that to define the operations of corporate business as merciless might be misleading, but the fact is the examples are now too glaring to ignore.
To begin with, the reinvigorated expansion of our telecommunications network via the licensed mobile telephone service providers must be welcomed and viewed with the greatest of caution. Because one of the most sought-after electronic gadgets in the country is the cell phone, the marketing around this has become preposterous if not downright dishonest. In the chase for the dollar of the Zimbabwean consumer, the mobile telephone companies are bordering on being ruthless.
Take for example a mobile phone company which is now offering life insurance via the topping-up of airtime in collaboration with a life insurance company. The exact contractual arrangements of this life insurance are glossed over and are motivated by trying as far as is possible to ensure maximum exploitation of the consumer on -- an issue which normally would be much more serious than a text message to a subscriber.
The extent and nature of the coverage or how relatives of subscribers to the same will benefit are unclear until you have paid a part of the requisite payment via re-charging your phone’s airtime.
Another example is that of our now ever mushrooming supermarkets that are doing service through inducing an exaggerated consumer culture in the country. The fact that they are selling South African goods and by so doing not assisting our own local industries, means that they are operating purely on the basis of an unsustainable profit. Or a profit that relies totally on the ability of the South African manufacturing industry to supply us with finished goods and products in a manner that makes Zimbabwe similar to Swaziland and Lesotho.
But because their primary purpose is unmitigated profit, they will not see the linkage, hence the arrival of Pick ‘n Pay amongst others onto the scene without any clear plan of how they will boost local production of goods and increase employment.
A third example is that of our health services sector. This sector has become a multi-million dollar spinning enterprise minus any clear public benefit. With the complicity of health-related non-governmental organisations, the health industry has taken advantage of issues relating to fear of mortality to make a super profit.
The very basic maxim of the health services is that if one does not have money, one does not get treated. Even if a medical doctor wants to assess a patient for free, the equipment, drugs and other related products are beyond the reach of many. The NGOs weigh in by arguing about private-public partnerships which to all intents and purposes are a euphemism for profit making at the expense of public access to reliable health services.
Even ARV distribution is a big business with better versions of the latter being the preserve of the rich, together with the attendant medical supervision. That is perhaps why the funeral services are making a huge profit burying our fellow citizens as though it were normal for death to be a roaring enterprise.
A fourth and final example is that of our education services sector. The outsourcing of education to private colleges or commercial school development associations has led to exorbitant tuition fees being charged on parents who barely make more than US$150 a month. The universities and other tertiary learning institutions are taking advantage of parents’ basic intention to get their children the best education possible by charging fees that lead to a profit that no-one is clear as to where it ends up.
Occasionally, a school/college bus will be bought as a demonstration of where the money is going but to all intents and purposes, this is largely a cover up for profits that intend to milk the parent/guardian to the last cent.
So as we all go for Christmas, some with a bonus, others without, we must be conscious of the dishonest manner in which private and commercialised state enterprises are functioning. It is now their primary purpose to milk every dollar that a Zimbabwean citizen has to the last cent. Their tactics include emotional blackmail in the case of a relative, friend or child falling ill or needing an education befitting best practices.
They will also function on utilising every other opportunity that emerges to make a super profit, regardless of how unsustainable it is for the national economy or the betterment of the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe.
As far as can be discerned, it is private business that has benefitted the most from the GPA and its inclusive government. And at this rate, it shall continue to be the same.