Mathabelazitha/the anvil BY ZIFISO MASIYE
Dear Mr President,
Policymaking and policy implementation are areas that we like to think of in idealistic terms in which the actors are altruistic. Often, we accept a certain level of self-interest among policy makers on the assumption that their self-interest serves the interests of the masses. Unfortunately, in our country the self-interests of the policy makers and policy implementers do not serve the citizenry well. We have an undesirable situation in which policymaking and policy implementation are used for self-enrichment rather than the maintenance of political support or the achievement of greater social good.
I could cite many more examples, but I will limit myself to the fuel price increase. In that announcement, Your Excellency created multiple layers of exemption whose operational details were not immediately available. It is my contention that it is these exemptions and privileges that accorded some citizens and not the rest of the population that contribute to market distortions. Price distortions arising from the failure of the fuel price to self-correct in line with the exchange rate aside, this class of privileged persons can purchase any quantity of fuel and become traders in the commodity. Even where such privilege is extended to public vehicle operators or producers, there can never be adequate controls for the system to avoid a secondary market for the differently priced fuel. It is this exceptionalism in policymaking and implementation that fuels corruption. The same exceptionalism is evident in the payment of duty on vehicles and other imports. The beneficiaries of such systems continuously seek to extend their exemptions to the extent of wanting to be exempt to the laws and constitution of our country. Mr President, Sir, when policy is made it must affect all equally and where remedial provisions are made, they must be for the underprivileged (and here we must maintain a strict definition of who is underprivileged and make provisions that are not easily captured by the elites).
As an affected citizen who is looking at the issues from a sober perspective and without a political agenda, I propose that your advisors focus on two key issues as follows:
a) How to remove the distortions and untargeted subsidies in the economy
b) How to support and manage the adjustments that must occur in contractual arrangements between employers and employees.
Removing distortions and untargeted subsidies
It is my contention that the many distortions and untargeted subsidies do not benefit the ordinary citizen who has neither the access to real US dollars nor the sophistication to know how to game the system for his/her benefit. For the commodities and services used by the ordinary citizens, the market has already made adjustments. The continued tenure of the subsidies benefits a certain class who either consume the subsidised services or use them to gain a competitive edge of other players in their respective sectors. For the ordinary citizen, the price of fuel was the only subsidy that benefitted them and the price increase removed this. Current black market currency rates imply we are again getting to subsidised fuel, which means fuel shortages, or another painful adjustment will be needed or inevitable.
Supporting and managing adjustments in contractual arrangements between employers and employees
One of the effects our failure to acknowledge the real exchange rate between our RTGS dollars and real US dollars has been an erosion of the real wages of workers, impoverishment of citizens and increased vulnerability of households. Even in instances where businesses have adjusted prices in line with parallel market rates, the adjustments in wages have not matched the real world scenarios for workers. Domestic workers are paid 160 RTGS dollars, which translates to a mere US$42. The erosion of wages needs urgent correction. In the absence of formal acknowledgement and support for a process of adjustment to wages, we are left with a situation where workers are at the mercy/benevolence of employers. While the state may be concerned about how to raise adequate resources to offer fair remuneration to civil servants, failing to acknowledge and manage the problem will not make it go away. We are simply kicking the can down the road.
These, Mr President, are the challenges I see and the areas that will put us on the right path. The quantum of new investments that we attract will mean very little if these two issues are not addressed. Genuine businesses will fail, labour unrest will be the norm, citizens will die of curable diseases and children will be incurably stunted. The nation will carry the scars of this period well past the current period. Our challenges need not lead to loss of limb or life.
I do not, for a fleeting second, believe that anything that is expressed in this letter is so complex to be beyond the capabilities of your many well-educated advisors. That being the case, one wonders why the well-educated men and women in your various advisory structures have allowed us to be in this situation?
Perhaps, Your Excellency ought to send these men and women out to talk to ordinary citizens and to do so without looking for a hidden agenda in genuine efforts to move our nation forward.
At another time, if it so pleases Your Excellency, I will write about the calls for dialogue and how such dialogue can be extended beyond the interests of political parties to focus on the survival and prosperity of citizens.
Zii Masiye (email@example.com) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.