HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsThe dilemmas of a ‘no-one- in-charge’ policy regime

The dilemmas of a ‘no-one- in-charge’ policy regime

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With each day, there is a growing public interest and consensus that state enterprises and parastatals (SEPs) should undergo significant reform.

Estimates show state enterprises and parastatals contribute between 40-45% of Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Potentially, these are strategic institutions of promise, but currently they remain as enclaves of our economic peril.

As is the case with any issue in Zimbabwe, there is no agreement on what direction this reform should take.

As a result, the extent to which the proposal to restructure, commercialise or privatise by the Minister of SEPs will be fully supported and comprehensively implemented is a difficult diagnosis to make.

Perhaps the minister recognised that reforming this sector is no mean task. He made a call to action inviting scholars, practitioners, politicians, business and the civil society to join the quest to explore and refine social innovation initiatives that facilitate collective action for the public good.

This is imperative, considering that the reform advocate works within a mixed motive policy regime and contested political context. It makes any proposed policy change in the policy front look like fishing in the troubled waters.

In this inclusive government, the dilemma is that philosophies behind change are not sincerely agreed upon and totally accepted by all the political and economic players affecting and affected by the desired change.
Chances are high that Zanu PF hardliners and status quo beneficiaries could stall this proposed policy reform.

There is a genuine fear though, that this reform will give the reformist MDCs (especially MDC-T) a political advantage as we seemingly trudge towards the electoral mode.

In this context, even if progressive actions towards reform were taken, the programmes, policies and actions needed to leverage it may not be implemented as rationally expected.

This calls for the Minister of SEPs and all the reform proponents to be bold in this reform agenda.

They must be fully cognisant of the fact that they act within a power-sharing arrangement where power is not necessarily shared and where critical decisions are not always made for the public good.

Public expectations must be adjusted accordingly because progress will be slower than usual owing to the fact that responsibilities, activities and even authority are hugely contested.

Clear policy mandates and solutions are extremely difficult to have and where they are found, it becomes extremely difficult to implement them.

One has to crack the whip and stroke the egos at the same time largely because issues at stake involve conflict, not consensus. The prospect of turning a genuine reform initiative into “theatres of political confrontation” is unavoidable.

A successful policy reform advocacy within and beyond the parastatals will be one that is politically rational in that it has to get support within Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC-M and the broader civic movement, the dominant stakeholders.

Such is the reality of a “no-one-in-charge policy regime”; planning and decision-making can only be politically rational.

After all, there is clearly no consensus on the definition of the problem or its causes.

As it stands, state-run public companies are the enclave of Zanu PF intellectual capital masquerading as CEOs and corporate boards who have grown to see themselves and be seen as “sacred cows”.

This is despite the fact that they presided over the collapse and demise of Zesa, Ziscosteel, Hwange Colliery Company, and Grain Marketing Board, among many other essential public utilities.

In as much as they are part of the problem, they remain critical stakeholders in the solution. In other words, while change is fuelled by aspirations, these must be balanced with fears.

Already these fears are expressed in such arguments that the ministry has no Act of Parliament that should be administered by it.

The aim of this argument is that ministry has neither the mandate nor the authority to initiate policy reform.

It is true that under the current set-up, the Ministry of SEPs supervises 77 state enterprises and parastatals whose regulation is done by other ministries.

In the murky and messy waters of the policy arena, political mandates are as good as legislative ones.

In fact, if any taxpayer is has the authority and the right to call for reform of the SEPs, why should the minister’s reform agenda be a problem?

Behind this argument are those minds that have no appreciation of the shift from focusing on government to focusing on governance.

Governance intimates a paradigm shift in the meaning of democracy and civic agency-that is, the role of addressing public problems and promoting the general welfare is no longer in the monopoly of those with the command and control mandates given by the “Cabinet directives”, “Acts of Parliament” and “presidential decrees”.

That is why strong, despite the massive militarisation in public policy, disasters of proportional figures were experienced.

There also misplaced perceptions that proposed corporate governance measures like sticking to 30% of the total budget on salaries and allowances will force the skilled staff to seek greener pastures and fuel brain drain.

Most of these CEOs and the bulk of the staff in parastatals are military personnel who are double-dipping by earning two salaries, some without skills or qualification.

Which regional country can jeopardise its internal security by employing Zimbabwe’s military personnel in their public enterprises?

In fact, is it not because of the massive militarisation and looting in the parastatals and state enterprises that we have our most brilliant brains beyond our borders?

The current policy regime belongs to leaders who are policy entrepreneurs whose method is rooted in a networked and interconnected society where influence is more pronounced than authority.

Emphasis should be on the need to motivate, inspire and persuade. New networks must be created, old ones be co-opted or neutralised through highly informal information- sharing channels and more organised formal power-sharing arrangements.

Eventually, in a country where bad governance and atrocious corporate governance has been a culture fuelling massive social strife coupled with a failure to convert the taxpayer’s hard-earned contribution into quality public services, the implementation of restraints is likely to be more important than the promotion of government effectiveness.

Thabani Nyoni is a public policy analyst and a community organiser.

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