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Pick up or PAC up? …Jury out on Mnangagwa’s advisory body

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Tichaona Zindoga

On Friday, President Mnangagwa broke his annual leave, only two days into the scheduled three-week rest, and met members of his Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC).

PAC is a panel of about 30 eminent personalities drawn from different fields that Mnangagwa conscripted last year to aid him in finding solutions to running the country.

His meeting on Friday came just a few days short of the first anniversary of the panel.

George Charamba, the Presidential spokesperson, said his boss had met the panel to give it new direction as the year opens, with Mnangagwa urging focus on productivity but noting slow progress on other areas such as economic diplomacy, attracting Foreign Direct Investment, sourcing technology, and growing overseas markets and exports.

Marking the anniversary was, quite honestly, low key.

Perhaps it is a sign that PAC has not achieved much, if anything, for all its constellated stars hailing from different walks of Zimbabwean society.

Professor Jonathan Moyo, always one not to miss throwing a shade at Mnangagwa, said a majority of PAC members had skipped Friday’s meeting, with Cabinet ministers dominating attendance.

It was him again, last month, who claimed that PAC had “packed up” with members no longer attending the club.

If indeed Friday’s meeting was similarly snubbed, the question arises, should the body pack up or pick up?

Bitter judgment

Zimbabweans are brutal in their assessment of the body – one of a number of vehicles that have been available to Mnangagwa to turn things around during his two years at the helm since taking over from Robert Mugabe in November 2017.

Last week, I conducted a poll on Twitter which drew 447 respondents to the problem statement, “Whither PAC? This January marks a full year since the panel of experts, aka Presidential Advisory Committee, was engaged to help out @edmnangagwa. Have the experts made a difference?”

The overwhelming majority – 87 percent – said “No”, while 6 percent said “Yes”. 7 percent were “Not sure”.

The judgment is understandably harsh.

The current national state of affairs has seen life getting harder by the day for ordinary people while major socio-economic indicators such as provision of energy, currency and price stability, availability of essential services have worsened.

In the past year, PAC has not distinguished itself much. It does not issue statements or go public with its advice.

Amid the deepening crisis, PAC has simply acted like it is not there – at least in the harsh judgment of Zimbabweans.

Great expectations

So much was expected of it.

Comprising experts and leaders drawn from diverse sectors like business, health and social protection, agriculture, governance and human rights, faith-based organisations, tourism, education, minorities, ICT, civic society, communication and media management, PAC’s brief was to advise and assist the President in formulating key economic policies and strategies that advance Vision 2030.

Vision 2030 entails making Zimbabwe an upper middle-income country with gross national income (GNI) per capita of between $3,896 and $12,055, according to the World Bank’s technical calculations, implying high standards of living for citizens.

Announcing the group’s terms of reference last year, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda said:

“(It is supposed) to proffer ideas and suggestions on key reforms and measures needed to improve the investment and business climate in the country for economic recovery and growth,” he said.

“It must contribute towards policies and measures, short medium and long term, for the growth of the economy. On the strength of the country’s resources, to suggest best strategies for leveraging them to best national advantage; to advise and develop strategies for making Zimbabwe a modern, industrialised and food-secure, higher middle income by 2030; to input into policies and strategies for inclusive and balanced growth in line with the policy on decentralisation and devolution and to advise on the integration of science, technology, research and innovation in the economy.”

Sibanda said the advisory council would provide infrastructural strategies and investments meant to transform the country into a land-linked regional logistical and trading hub.

Explaining: “The PAC should also advise on developing sector by sector strategic value-chains for the economy which are linked to international markets…It is supposed to advise on national energy development strategy which makes Zimbabwe competitive; to suggest blue prints for regulatory frameworks and institutions for a modern, market-driven, business-friendly economy; to advise on strategies for building strong and gainful global partnerships as well as maximising on Zimbabwe’s bilateral and multilateral relations and to proffer ideas of building a Sovereign Wealth Fund and to ensure that national growth and development strategies are built on environmental safeguards for future generations.”

A year on, very few boxes are being ticked.

To pick up or pack up?

There is another interesting dynamic. Trevor Ncube, a media mogul and proprietor of AMH, publishers of Newsday, The Standard and Zimbabwe Independent, seen as one of Mnangagwa’s sympathisers, has lately been showing signs of frustration with the leader. He has been holding talk shows increasingly critical of his principal client at PAC.

He has also been vocal about the corrosive sense of entitlement by some forces surrounding Mnangagwa, something that was brought up by Petina Gappah, a one-time consultant and international trade expert for the administration.

If there is any truth in revelations that members have been boycotting meetings, including on the not-so-happy anniversary occasion on Friday, there ought to be serious questions as to the wisdom of extending the life of the body rather than simply letting it pack up. What impetus will the body have to pick up in 2020?

(un)Listening to PAC

Let’s look at it from another angle. PAC, a voluntary body, has obviously done a lot of planning and talking, but has the President listened?

It is scary to think ¬¬that the body could have been reduced to a mere talk shop giving lots of advice to the Head of State, but with little uptake of its ideas.

The client may either not take them seriously or has other interests that prevent him from implementing the well-meant recommendations of his panel of experts¬¬.