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Don’t elect names, but solutions

It is difficult to point to another country, except for those at full-scale war, that has managed such dramatic cumulative decline in hope – in human livelihoods, in infrastructure and social development, in employment and economic performance, in political stability and governance and in international relations and competitiveness. Why, so consistently, are we subjecting ourselves to leadership that makes us all so collectively and so completely embarrassed of what other humans elsewhere are so proud of :our citizenship, our very Zimbabweaness?

By Zifiso Masiye

For a country with such history as ours, for citizens approaching arguably their most important national decision of 40 years, we must consider it the very pinnacle of witchcraft that the boiling discussion of our future leadership hardly addresses itself to the core issues of governance failure and economic collapse that landed us where we are.

Plummeting from high economic productivity and regional competiveness a couple of decades back, to the region of 25% capacity utilisation in all key sectors, for example, immediately translates to highly prohibitive production costs and prices of locally produced products and services that will never compete with regional and global prices from plants producing similar products across the border and elsewhere in sane economies. Industry competiveness is significantly depressed by the virtual collapse of the financial services sector, the complete inability of financial institutions to make a sustainable commitment to recapitalise commerce and industry, consequent inhibitive input costs driven up by unreliable public utilities, executive extravagance, idle assets, high interest rates and expensive labour.
It does not help that consistently we are nursing a patently incestuous blood-sucking relationship between the ruling party and public enterprises whose business viability has been progressively eroded to a halt. With the environment of recurrent currency failure, virtual unavailability of foreign exchange, inconsistent policy, it is cheap public gallery for leaders to simply sing “Zimbabwe is open for business” and irresponsible for gullible citizens to hope for manna… for when push comes to shove,the hard FDI business decisions by the boardrooms of our purported droves of investors must be backed by assurances of internal order and effective fiscal discipline.

Commercial and industrial capacity utilisation can only improve where business commits itself to consistent quality and high levels of productivity, which itself is only possible where financial institutions work efficiently and there is demonstrable policy consistency.

Such as these critical concerns of de-industrialisation and loss of competiveness, inter alia, that sit at the epicentre of our epic collapse must take unmistakable pride of place on the agenda of any Jack out there that purports to be a leader and solicits the vote of Zimbabweans.

Granted,the ultimate theatre where the competitiveness or otherwise of our economy plays out is in the management of our external relations and delivering optimum value of our regional and global trading partners. Granted, former president Robert Mugabe made a comprehensive mess of our international portfolio. It is, however, just as important, if not more important, to acknowledge upfront that at the heart of the litany of problems that confront Zimbabwe now as in the past three decades is dysfunctional leadership, internal governance mismanagement, bad policy decisions and downright corruption, mirror-face-me-issues that no amount of mega-deals or global goodwill can ever solve.

While Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, on the excited strength of plane-loads of sponsored investment tourists and “mega deals”, already predicts an ambitions leapfrog of 6,5% economic growth, wise counsel from trained development economists suggests that for an economy to grow by as little as 1% per annum, a country must have savings of at least 25% of GDP.

With all, except a couple of sectors still performing way below capacity, with unprecedented levels of unemployment and virtually no meaningful internal stimulation of incomes, consumption and savings with no currency to talk about or a viable financial services sector, it is difficult to see how ED’s big promises can catapult economic productivity or manage a modest 15% savings in the next 24 months, let alone the 6% growth dream. So critical is the basic viability of the financial services sector in our kind of environment that in the evident absence of any real external financial facility to carry local industry in credit access, our banks and financial institutions have become the economy’s last financial recourse, a repository for ongoing borrowing and investment that oils and affects every sector, forming the most critical link of the economic value chain.

The collapse of the financial services and recurrent inflationary conditions have ground the economy’s potential for savings and investment to a virtual halt. The longstanding and deep-seated financial services viability is an evident manifestation and critical structural cause of the myriad of national challenges. Every Zimbabwean sees and feels the pangs of this crisis every day in the unending queues. President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised to have addressed the financial crisis in his first 100 days, having lived with and fuelled it for 15 years. He failed dismally. It is unclear what he and Chinamasa plan to do about lack of currency and dysfunctional lending institutions in a fresh five-year term!

Movement for Democratic Change Alliance president Nelson Chamisa, not unlike his uncle ED, offers neither an explanation of the genesis of the problem, nor any meaningfully thought-out plan of how his government intends to resolve this crisis. At his very best, the Bullet Train says he will have solved the currency and financial services problem in a maximum of 10 days! Really Zimbabwe!

My greatest shock and dismay is that of all the 11nteen men that have asked Zimbabwe for the right to lead the country, the only candidate that is not only experienced, knowledgeable and qualified to tackle such as these national challenges, but one who has committed to outlining the nature and extent of the challenge and offered simple, articulate ideas and well thought-out diagnosis and an array of sustainable solutions is the one man citizens seem to listen the least to!
An important policy choice that Zimbabwe has to make is who between the state and private sector is to drive economic growth. The wisdom of Big government, where an activist state enjoys majority shareholding and active capital formation in public enterprises — IDC, NRZ, ARDA, ZiscosteeIS, Hwange, Zesa — has come to be questioned by recent experiences elsewhere in the world, in contemporary development theory, but particularly in the absolute failure of all “government businesses”. The reluctance of government to relinquish its stranglehold on underperforming parastatals is a major factor of our lack of competitiveness. Perenial parental protection from open market competition, subsidisation, monopolistic behaviour, poor corporate governance and the parasitic relationship with personal and political parents has grounded all parastatals and proved to us that government has no business being in business!

Properly nurtured in semi-autonomous market conditions, companies in Zimbabwe have the capacity to grow, to create large employment bares and absorb idle labour, to generate significant foreign exchange earnings and create the basis for leapfrog. In what language do Zimbabwean need Nkosana Moyo to relate these simple, proven lessons of the world to get our country put out of its mess?

To be continued

l Zifiso Masiye also writes in social media as Balancing Rocks
Catch him on ziimasiye@gmail.com

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