Engaging private partnerships to enhance national development

As we look around us in our nation, it is evident that the economy is bleak. There is no hope for an immediate recovery. The exchequer is overburdened with social and national economic developmental needs.

Reinford Khumalo

Loans whether from the World Bank or from China can only increase the country’s indebtedness and would technically result in the whole country being mortgaged. Future generations would consequently ill-afford the basic needs affordable only to a few now. As a result of this dire economic situation in the country, infrastructural development — a necessity to grow a country’s wealth becomes untenable. Therefore, we are living on our capital — living from hand to mouth as a nation or analogically, eating the eggs that are supposed to be left to hatch the chickens that need to be kept for our continued future livelihood.

In a situation like this, there is need for us to think of solutions. Problems prompt people to think and seek solutions. Harmonising with this principle is an old adage that says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

National Railways of Zimbabwe train
National Railways of Zimbabwe train

One writer put it aptly and said, “Where there is no problem there is no research.” We are, therefore, faced with various options for a solution to our unenviable plight.

One proposition is that the government needs to forge partnerships with the private sector on developmental projects and maintenance of State-owned assets. Considering that many parastatals are doing poorly and are generally draining the exchequer financially, it would be advisable for government to invite tenders for private investors to run most if not all of our parastatals. The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) for example, is still far from the state-of-the-art modern-day railway line. It is still a “Mbombela” because it still takes the whole night as it used to do about 40 years ago to transport passengers from Bulawayo to Harare. Most of its business has as a result, been taken over by luxury buses such as City Link and Pathfinder to name, but a few. The transportation of most goods supposed to be done by the NRZ is now in the hands of road haulage companies.

A modern-day railway transport system is needed in the country — trains that could travel from Bulawayo to Harare in three hours or less. That could be achieved through inviting private investors to take over the railway system.

Such investors would then pay a fee to government for taking over the line. People are always ready to pay for a good service. The investors would in turn recover the costs of their investment through fees they charge for a good service they offer. This could be considered as a solution for all parastatals that are struggling financially.

Notwithstanding the above suggestion, I am aware that some parastatals ought to be maintained by the national government for strategic reasons. It could be decided which ones, anyway. The rest could certainly be outsourced. It is pointless to keep fund-drainers because that impoverishes the nation in a big way.

My other well-considered opinion is that all hospitals ought to be outsourced to private investors and the government could remain with clinics only to provide basic health services to the rest of the citizens. The fees for hospitals could be regulated to make them affordable by all. Private investors for hospitals could provide the best services.

The other area that needs revamping is our local government authorities. There is an outcry in every city, town and rural development area for better service delivery.

Roads in most areas have developed potholes, water supply needs proper attention, garbage removal leaves a lot to be desired. These challenges have a vicious cycle. They impact on people’s health. Cars get damaged as they move on these poor roads and ultimately the standards of living of the people deteriorate.

The solution could be to contract private investors to maintain urban and rural roads, provide service delivery such as sewage removal etc. The money for rates and taxes could be collected by government agencies that could pass equitable revenue collected on to the private investors. Again, consumers are always ready to pay for a good service.

Lessons can be learned from the private partnership with Group Five Company developing and maintaining the national road from Plumtree to Mutare. The road has been improved. Motorists pay for the service without a complaint.

A further suggestion of minimising public expenditure would be for some government ministries to be merged. For example, the Ministry of Defence could be merged with that one responsible for the Police and Prisons. Our country is relatively enjoying peace in the region such that the two ministries could be easily managed without a hassle.

Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and Zimbabwe National Roads Administration could also be merged. Their services seem to be overlapping. Infrastructural development is crucial for the future of our country. We need to build on our capital. Future generations need to see the work done by their forefathers through infrastructural development, such as good roads, well-established institutions of learning and investment structures such as factories for manufacturing all sorts of commodities including cars. As a starting step towards this enviable vision, we need to engage private partnerships in our development.

All the above are suggestions for improving our economy! Let’s think more!

●Professor Reinford Khumalo is a business leadership and management consultant. He is affiliated to institutions of higher learning nationally and abroad. He can be contacted through Email: Reinford.Khumalo@gmail.com His mobile number is +273 77 9544208

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