HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsZBC: Casualty of ‘do-nothingism’

ZBC: Casualty of ‘do-nothingism’

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Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Professor Jonathan Moyo has summarily dissolved the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) board and sent its chief executive officer on forced leave on grounds of “critical leadership and managerial challenges that has not only compromised its capacity to effectively and meaningfully discharge its mandate, a situation that resulted in the failure by the parastatal to pay its workers for several months”.

Echoes by Conway Tutani

The liquidity crunch is there. Many companies across all sectors are struggling to pay employees, but some are commendably doing their best to alleviate this plight while others have seen this as an excuse not to pay at all.

By almost any measure, parastatals have been among the worst-run firms of significant size in Zimbabwe. ZBC’s performance has deteriorated sharply over the past few years, but it is not surprising that the top managers have kept their jobs because they are essentially political appointments, not business ones. As for parastatal directors, they have clearly done nothing to improve the performance or force out the CEO or chairman. In many cases, chairmen have been in that position for very long and have been board members for even longer, resulting in them being entrenched in their positions. The relevant minister has a responsibility to remedy that. But, over the course of the past 33 years, they haven’t particularly bothered to do that.

That observed, Moyo’s decisive move was indeed long overdue. Moyo has rightly deduced that there is no time to waste; that the issue is both urgent and grave.

How could he see it any other way? How the previous minister let this situation go on is a mystery. For too long, career politicians have been allowed to compromise on critical issues which has led to not only damaging, but dangerous effects on the nation. Mind you, during the inclusive government ZBC fell under the watch of this Zanu PF minister who is still in the Cabinet. The minister had the power and authority to put an immediate stop to this rot. But, alas, he did nothing — absolutely nothing — in the eyes of the public. This is replicated across all parastatals. Hwange Colliery could be on its death bed, but no heads have rolled. Does Zanu PF deputy spokesperson Psychology Maziwisa’s assertion that President Robert Mugabe “is surrounded by a team of great ministers” square with the evidence?

Again there is a gross mismatch between the financial performance of ZBC and the salary levels of the top brass, with the top earner reported to be getting US$30 000 monthly. Talk of winning a lottery every month! To show how crazy and obscene this is, in the United States, which still has race issues, the median (average) salary for blacks is US$21 000 annually (US$1 750 per month) while that for whites is US$28 000 (US$2 333 per month). Can Zimbabwe – a much smaller economy than the US and with most indicators currently pointing downwards – afford this? Is such profligacy sustainable? This does not help the average Zimbabwean, but the already rich. What is happening is tilted towards the well-off Zimbabweans. We must not look at others as objects without any emotional connection to them as fellow human beings.

And there has been talk of extravagance pertaining to allowances at parastatals. Obviously we are not on the same page of economic recovery when some chief executives — or, is it criminal executives? — are taking 300 litres of fuel daily from companies they head, as revealed by economist Christopher Chigaga this week on ZTV discussion programme Melting Pot. 300 litres x 22 working days per month = 6 600 litres. 6 600 litres at US$1,48 per litre = US$9 768 per month! Now, this looks distinctly like imposing illegal sanctions on fellow Zimbabweans who happen not to have political clout. What’s the daily turnover of such State-owned firms to afford such expenditure? Those in charge should strive to improve the country instead of simply enriching themselves. They have no right and no excuse to feast on others’ sweat.

Politics — partisan politics — is mainly to blame for this dire state of affairs. Political appointees put endearment above everything else — including performance. The surest way to get yourself fired as an adviser is to say something true. Simba Makoni was sacked as Finance minister for urging fiscal restraint and measures like controlled and gradual devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar. His advice was promptly dismissed. The result was the total disappearance of the Zim dollar as ordinary Zimbabweans abandoned it well before the official announcement. Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, who presided over the death of the Zim dollar by printing money 24/7, is still there. Now, Patrick Chinamasa, a lawyer, has been appointed Finance minister. People will justifiably ask: Shouldn’t someone with more technical expertise than political bona fides have instead been appointed to control economic policy especially at this critical juncture?

The ZBC CEO is a journalist by profession, not a manager with a record of company turnaround. He is a square peg in a round hole. Management transcends ideology; and in that aspect, Zimbabwe is not an exception.

But there has been a refreshing change at ZBC since Moyo’s shake-up. It’s like he is saying: “This time haulume (you won’t get away with it)!” Unlike before, news bulletins are now starting on time most of the time; on the hour every hour, prompting one to ask: Was it about sanctions or sloppiness?

Ministers, drop this mentality of “do-nothingism” — or be fired if Mugabe is really serious about performance this time around.

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