GOVERNMENT plans to declare Bulawayo “a special economic zone”, as it intensifies efforts to revive the city’s status as the hub of industrial activity in the country, deputy minister of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion, Samuel Undenge has said.
Report by Musa Dube
Undenge said government intended to make the declaration in order to address the economic challenges dogging the city.
“Government is considering declaring Bulawayo a special economic zone which will usher in a much faster pace of attracting investment into the city,” he said. “Economic zones have propelled the economic development of countries such as China, India and South Africa as they command incentives that are favoured to investors.”
About 20 000 workers have been left jobless in Bulawayo over the past three years, after over 100 firms, mostly in the manufacturing, textile and clothing sectors, closed down.
Challenges faced by the industries included shortage of working capital, high utility bills and excessive imports that were eroding local production.
“The Ministry of Investment and Promotion is putting up structures to ensure a closer working relationship with the City of Bulawayo, as we roll out the implementation of the Medium Term Plan,” said the deputy minister. “It is our intention to be part of the Provincial Development Committees and the Economic Development Committees of various local authorities in order to ensure that our national planning processes are also cascaded to the local level.”
Undenge added that the incidence of policy discord would be greatly minimised if such a collaboration was established.
He reiterated that the major challenge affecting the local industry was lack of working capital.
“Lack of access to finance to high interest rates continues to hinder recovery of industry countrywide, more to Bulawayo. Government set up a US$40 million fund to revive companies but I would like to admit that disbursement has been slow,” he said.
Undenge said the government was keen to sign more Bilateral Investments Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippa) with friendly countries in order to get the much-needed capital to revive the country’s economy.
“The government, through the Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion continues to sign Bippas in order to unlock lines of credit from friendly countries. The Bippa with Botswana to unlock at least 500 million pula funding for the local industry was ratified by the Zimbabwe parliament and this will contribute to the financial requirements of the business sector,” he said.