When Zanu PF rolled over Movement for Democratic Change in 2013 and gave President Robert Mugabe another five-year term, they could never have anticipated the immediate consequences.
GUEST OPINION BY EDDIE CROSS
After four years of growth and recovery and rising confidence in local and international circles, the country went into mourning and markets crashed. In six months $3,5 billion dollars fled the economy and a third of all banks closed their doors.
In the next two years, revenues to the State and the formal gross domestic product declined by 37%, business confidence sank out of sight and company closures and severe liquidity problems persisted in all sectors. It was clear by the end of 2013 that we needed substantial budget support if we were to survive.
In 2014, the State concentrated on trying to persuade its friends, especially China, to assist with the growing fiscal crisis in the form of a grant for budget support and significant new investments. All efforts failed and in desperation, and perhaps under pressure from creditor States and allies, they reluctantly turned to the international community and the International Monetary Fund.
The engagement had started in 2012 when the government of national unity authorised an effort to restore relations with the multilateral agencies to secure debt relief and new financing.
Reluctantly, Mugabe allowed Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to continue the effort and the Fund began the long process of restoring confidence in Zimbabwe as a debtor State. Although the Fund’s engagement in the process was always technical and financial, the politics played a key role as the major shareholders in the Fund would not allow re-engagement and support unless the Zimbabwean government agreed to tough reforms in political, human and other key areas.
The process is never fast or easy and the mating rituals with the Fund led off in the form of two periods of a Staff-Monitored Programme. Double speak for “let’s get to know each other before we announce our engagement”. Everything went to script until May 4 2016. I
n September 2015 the two families announced that an engagement was in the offing and the Lima Agreement was signed. This resulted in a meeting of the full board of the Fund on May 2 where, for the first time in nearly 20 years, Zimbabwe was put on the agenda.
It was announced after the board meeting, that the board had accepted the staff recommendations that we be allowed to consummate the marriage. It was agreed that debt clearance and a debt management strategy would be implemented and that if this was concluded satisfactorily, normal relations would be resumed.
Then, in a dramatic development, the bride to be, without consultation, announced that she was going to introduce a new local currency; the impact on Washington was immediate and harsh. What was going on that had given rise to this decision? No hint had been given at the board meeting just two days before that the local liquidity crisis was anything other than a slight setback. Now suddenly surgery is required? What was wrong?
Immediate enquiries were ordered and what the Fund discovered was that the bride had not been totally honest about the real state of affairs. They had been secretly living way beyond their means. Government liabilities were much greater than previously revealed and that the elaborate mating rituals had been a sham.
This past week Parliament in Zimbabwe has been very revealing. Out of the blue, the government tabled a long-awaited bill to amend the Acts of Parliament controlling the management of Local Authorities. The new Constitution adopted in 2013, on the basis of which much of the progress in negotiations with the IMF had been based, had adopted far reaching changes to local government and provided for the radical devolution of power from central government to the democratically elected local authorities.
This new bill only provided for one change to both the Rural Districts Councils Act and the Urban Councils Act and that was to try to reinstate the powers that the new Constitution had stripped away from the Minister of Local Government.
What it seeks is to reinstate the minister’s prerogative to suspend and dismiss the elected leadership of councils at will. Since the MDC took control of the urban areas in 2000, the minister has used this power to continually harass, disrupt and dismiss elected councillors and mayors in pursuit of a concerted effort to take control of these councils and their revenues.
In preparation for the next election — expected in 2018 — the minister (who is also the political commissar of Zanu PF) has been instructed to cripple and even remove as many MDC-controlled councils as he can.
He is following his mandate and even though we have taken him to court several times, the politically-managed and controlled judicial system is simply not doing its job.
A major application to the Constitutional Court to knock down the unconstitutional sections of the Urban Councils Act has not even been set down for a hearing. The clear objective of the new bill is to circumvent the Constitutional Court.
This week the minister asked Parliament to suspend its normal rules so that the bill could be fast-tracked. We, in the MDC, fought him on the issue but lost. Now we have been recalled from recess next week and I am sure the sole business will be to fasttrack this bill. Now what does this all mean?
Firstly, it clearly demonstrates that Zanu PF has no intention at all of implementing the new Constitution. Secondly, it shows that they know that they cannot win a free and fair election and are, therefore, strengthening their defence against the MDC. The voters’ roll is still under military control and is managed not by the electoral commission as provided in the Constitution, but by a secretive company called Nikuv from Israel.
The Local Government minister has announced his intention of settling up to 250 000 members of the youth wing of his party in urban areas using urban and state land and allocating these people small plots at virtually no cost to themselves.
You do not need an imagination to understand that the programme of fear and coercion, and the control given by the fear of being removed from your allocated stands, is now being extended to all urban centres and the newly-settled people will be used for political purposes and controlled violence against all opponents.
Then on Thursday, Chinamasa came to the House to make a statement of “national importance” He tried to explain the cash shortages and simply rolled out all the propaganda that has been used in recent weeks to try to explain the sudden crisis and to justify the measures being taken. As soon as he finished, he left the House despite the fact that a dozen MDC MPs had indicated they wanted clarification.
I asked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, if the minister would return next week to allow clarification and was told, no. He then adjourned the House early to avoid any further debate.
What does this all indicate? Very clearly it says that the leopard that has been courting the IMF and the international community in the past three years has not changed its spots in any way. The consequences for the country are disastrous. They are again attempting to take money out of our accounts and replacing it with a worthless form of virtual money. Their economic policies are destroying what little is left of a once diversified and sophisticated economy.
They are clearly not going to allow a democratic election any time soon and the wholesale theft of resources by a tiny, military and civilian clique is continuing.
I am afraid that the days of trying to whitewash this leopard and to persuade it to change its ways are over. We have no choice but to take matters into our own hands and effect real change in our country. The best solution would be an internationally supervised election without a voters’ roll as soon as possible. If this is not facilitated by the region, then the streets will have to make the required decisions. We the citizens of this country, really have no choice.
Eddie Cross is an MDC MP for Bulawayo South.