MANY are increasingly disillusioned by the government’s unwillingness to pragmatically and assertively push for a more enabling business and investment climate.
Granted, political leaders are not expected to be great economists or development experts, but they are expected to deliver on the promises they make to the electorate by assigning the right and capable talent in the form of economists, industrialists and consultants. These technocrats are expected to formulate and execute the economic transformation strategies in order for us to move forward as a nation. After all planning is fluid, and it is the right action on the ground that brings results.
The initial indications in the post-2013 election period were that of an invigorated government ready to furiously roll-out the ZimAsset programme, and reach out and mend bridges with willing foes and begin unlocking capital flows into the country. This was expected to be bolstered by boldly right-sizing the government administration, streamlining structures and operations to be lean and efficient, implementing of a results-based management system and a code of conduct for government officials.
The Communist Party of China deservedly deepened its hold on power by, first and foremost, relentlessly focusing on advancing the domestic economy. It deliberately put to the fore of developmental projects, cadres who were disciplined and seasoned technical experts in their various fields e.g. engineers, scientists, urban planners, geologists, economists, etc. As a result, a culture of hard work, efficiency, quality and pride in achievement took root. And without fear or favour, they ruthlessly dealt with corruption. Anyone, from the highest ranking party or government official right down to a cell member could face jail term if convicted of corruption. And the result of such a focused and disciplined approach and hard working culture is that more than half a billion people escaped a poverty stricken village livelihood as economic advancement benefits flowed. That was truly remarkable and spectacular.
Now, with the alarming and rampant levels of corruption that exist in Zimbabwe and which in some cases had the blessings of political god-fathers and mothers, there has been no single corruption trial by the courts of any senior political figure in as many years. At this rate, therefore, to expect the more damaging high profile corrupt activities to end anytime soon is like hoping to find teeth in a chicken’s mouth. And in the midst of our protracted economic meltdown stands such remarkable opulence and splashing of wealth by the usual suspects and the source of which remains opaque. It is no wonder then that the main beneficiaries of the current economic conditions will drag their feet when it comes to changing the status quo in order to move forward.Advertisement
Undoubtedly, ZimAsset is a good economic blue print, but it remains so, a blueprint. This brings us to a lesson that is now well-learnt. An announcement of plans and programmes for economic breakthroughs by government should never be confused for anything tangible, until and unless, if for example it’s an infrastructural development project, one sees earthmoving machines, men and women in work suits in action at the site.
It is now common knowledge that when officials of, or related to the state talk of game-changing developmental plans such as new railways/speed trains, dualized highways, creation of economic zones/industrial parks, or anything more significant than the familiar sinking of boreholes or roofing a classroom block at a rural school, they are just talking heads on television that barely understand how the ZimAsset thesis can be put to use in practice. Walking the ZimAsset talk, as with past plans and programmes, has become rocket science for government.
The past decade and a half abounds with examples. Let’s consider a few major projects the government announced and which never materialised: Harare-Chitungwiza commuter train; revival of NewZimSteel; Sengwa Thermal power station; Kunzvi Dam construction, Matabeleland-Zambezi Water project; Batoka Gorge hydro power station, Beit Bridge-Chirundu highway and privatization of some parastatals. The intriguing and classic one remains that of the several-times announced Beitbridge-Chirundu highway dualization. The project was conceived, planned, approved, and a tender was awarded, budget done and probably money exchanged hands – maybe more than a decade ago. But there is no new highway – upgraded or dualized – up to now! And recently joining the queue of plans includes the creation of the new “Consolidated Diamond Company” and a national mineral exploration programme/project. Blueprints of most of these projects have now been stashed away in government offices and are gathering dust.
It’s a consistent pattern; all talk-a whole lot of it with little or no action on the ground. But in the process of all this, a slew of the talking heads became filthy rich while the ranks of ordinary folks who command a poverty stricken existence continue to swell as the shrinking economic opportunities slip through their fingers. Spectacular! But this trend can be reversed.
Now, we must influence the agenda for our nation’s economy to move forward. Changing mindsets of the political leadership is the greatest battle ahead. Great indeed because we have old people at the top who not only lack agility and pragmatism, but are failing to take a leaf from the economic success of our all-weather friends, China and Russia; nor learn from the success of the Tiger economies (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) or that of the resource tiger, Norway for example.
Instead, what we continue to be subjected to, two years after elections, is the retrogressive intra-party duels and muted action on the economic advancement front. Organizationally, for example, the Telecel saga reflects poorly on government and its related parties in the form of an empowerment grouping and some war veterans. The important lessons for all parties involved are: be organized, be disciplined, and focus on creating value and grinding results, not the greed and useless squabbles!
With hardly any semblance as yet of an economic advancement breakthrough on the horizon, consensus is roundly building on blaming corruption, greed and a sloppy understanding of what needs to be done practically at the presidency level and failure to be pragmatic. And where are our bold experts who should be pointing out that, for example, the president’s stance on fiscal discipline is wrong? To be fair, however, all hope is not lost as lively debates do sometimes occur on national TV as demonstrated a few months back when one spirited and incisive economist Takunda Mugaga squared it off with the eloquent but rather defensive Affirmative Action Group chief Dr Gomo on the popular TV programme, Melting Pot. It would appear very shallow for one to defend a strategy that is clearly failing. Overcoming the rapacious and shady accumulation of personal wealth and the politics of patronage will be a remarkable step forward.
That said, not all the blame for the general economic decline rests with government and its related parties. The prevailing mindset among many who hold key positions in society can also be classified as in a “loot-default” mode, which is to embezzle and parlay the ill-gotten proceeds to make enormous amounts of money for oneself, leaving everyone else scrambling for scraps. This approach to life is being popularized through the zvangu-zvaita mantra which means focusing on the personal gain regardless of how that gain is obtained or consequences to others. This is not constructive as it ignores the criticality of inclusiveness in national development. There is more to gain, sustainably so, both from an individual and national perspective when money is deployed to well-researched, viable and scalable projects that create employment, pay taxes and provide yearly dividend returns than investing in, for example, a collection of top of the range cars; 19-bedroomed mansions, underhand deals and flamboyant life styles. But then this is an issue of wisdom and discipline, which is not common with the content free bling crews.
Arguably, heroes of the times are the street vendors who now boast of college graduates in their ranks. To counter a punishing economic environment, these vendprenuers have invaded previously inaccessible areas and can now sell anything and everything anywhere to eke out a living – but with no corruption. When stepping out of a bank, car or kombi in the capital city one doesn’t have to walk for long before encountering an assortment of their offerings which range from airtime, apples, bananas, tsubvu, iPhones, veges, rat poison, socks, hair products or a barber’s salesman beckoning potential customers to come and try out his version of a Mohawk haircut. To them there is so much lost ground and a stolen future to cover in an economy with nothing on the horizon to suggest jobs save for the ZimAsset thesis.
Under the prevailing difficult conditions, the vendprenuer is focused and grinds results daily better than the opulent city town clerk or typical government minister who is armed with Range Rovers, Mercs, air-conditioned offices and millions of dollars in tax payers money to (mis)allocate. How then do we move forward?
It is critical that we learn fast from other successful countries. For examples of nations who have excelled in creating and focusing on their strengths (competitive advantages), we can look no further than the global masters of the game. South Korea has unmistakably become the global technological leader, particularly in display systems and biotechnology (genetic engineering). China became the global manufacturing juggernaut of goods and is now shifting gears to a services and consumption led economy. If it’s manufacturing of weaponry, production of oil and gas and mining in general, the Russians are firing from all cylinders. That is even before mentioning Singapore, Norway, Canada, Australia and many others.
What does that imply to us? It implies that it is inexcusable for Zimbabwe to fail to deliver on two obvious fronts; agricultural production and mining, especially of diamonds, gold and coal. And underpinning this success should be a robust infrastructure network of tarred roads, rail, power plants, and dams, among others. To kick start this, there has to be flows of finance, capital goods and skills into the economy and this can be catalyzed by adopting a pragmatic policy regime. That’s how we can in turn catalyze both the agricultural and resource sector revolutions which are likely to precede full throttle industrialization and urbanization.
When faced with climate change effects, the view that only a planting season with plenteous rainfall will lead to a bumper crop is now outdated and even idiotic. With half as good a rainfall season we just had, a bumper crop harvest is achievable if extensive rain harvesting techniques and infrastructure, and irrigation facilities were the mainstay of all the strategic farming regions in the country. Climate change is here to stay and every large scale farm that specializes in crop production should of necessity, have an irrigation facility.
A prominent investor and businessman once spoke of a management that behaves like a player of darts who carelessly throws darts, widely missing the target. But wherever the dart lands, he goes and paints a bull circle around the dart and then boasts of his “amazing” dart-throwing skills. That is what a government that consistently misses every economic blue print target ends up behaving like. As they say, the buck stops with the president, well then, this is the call: “Comrade President, we are not moving forward, the economy is sinking; I repeat we are sinking fast; we urgently call for pragmatism, fiscal discipline and a crackdown on corruption within the administration to stop the hemorrhage, Sir!”
Noel T Ngangira writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted at email@example.com