Finance minister Mthuli Ncube has often been accused of being far too removed from what ordinary Zimbabweans are experiencing in the wake of economic turmoil that is taking back the country into the dark ages.
Ncube has not endeared himself to many because of the austerity measures that were introduced last year.
His critics say the policies do not seem to take cognisance of the fact that Zimbabwe’s economy has reached rock bottom, hence the failure to come up with interventions that will have the desired impact.
Ncube appeared to be giving the critics more ammunition last week when he set aside funds in the 2020 budget for the launch of a space satellite.
He justified that decision by stating that research and development were “critical for Zimbabwe’s social economic transformation and competitiveness, as the country strives to attain Vision 2030.”
That budgetary allocation left many dumbfounded because they have been struggling to access basics such as water and electricity for most of this year.
For the past two months, thousands of Zimbabweans have been turned away from public hospitals because the government says it is not in a position to pay doctors a living wage.
Thousands have died in their homes without getting any treatment because hospitals are not taking any patients due to the doctors’ strike and many people’s expectations were that Ncube’s budget would speak to that unfolding crisis.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Zimbabwe dreaming big, but the reality on the ground is that we desperately need to go back to the basics.
The ruling Zanu PF party has just been doing exactly that by setting up firewood powered ovens to produce cheap bread and setting up fish farming projects.
Ncube’s leap into space, therefore, doesn’t seem to be in tandem with the ruling party’s development thrust and is likely to be another waste of money that could otherwise be invested in improving food security and access to health care.
The allocation of funds for the space satellite project is just one of many issues in Ncube’s budget, including the continued funding of command agriculture, which have raised questions about the current government’s capacity to turn around the economy.
Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to contract by 6,5% this year largely because the country has to import most of its food requirements, yet millions of dollars were set aside for command agriculture.
A responsible government cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Ncube needs to get his priorities right for any economic turnaround to happen.