Chinamasa gets another Mugabe slap down, yet ‘another bookish casualty’

HARARE — It was 1992, and drought-hit Zimbabwe had just a week’s supply of maize left.

The Source

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Cephas Msipa was chairman of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), then the state grain monopoly. For placing an order to import maize, he found himself before President Robert Mugabe and his ministers, accused him of trying to cause alarm and despondency.

The ministers sat in silence as Msipa and Renson Gasela, then GMB head, were berated by Mugabe. It was all a lie, they were told. Our intelligence tells us our grain silos are full. Sitting there and watching was Bernard Chidzero, then Finance minister.

Only one warning was to turn Mugabe. “If you don’t give us the money to buy maize, you people will not be in power; there is no way you can remain in power if people have no food to eat,” Msipa recounts in his memoirs.

It played on Mugabe’s greatest fear, and it worked. Chidzero was ordered to release the money.

Leaving the meeting, Chidzero admitted to Msipa he was aware of how dire the drought situation was. So why had he not said so in the meeting, Msipa asked. Chidzero’s reply: “I cannot be seen to contradict what the President has said.”

And that is just how Mugabe loves his Finance ministers; quiet, obedient, and in denial.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, a surprise pick for the post, who has worked hard to confound his critics, has had to find that out many times. Last year, Chinamasa announced a suspension of bonuses, but was publicly humiliated by Mugabe four days later.

Now, just under a week after Chinamasa announced a raft of measures to cut government spending, he has once again been slapped down publicly.

On Tuesday, Information minister Chris Mushowe released a statement saying Cabinet had never approved Chinamasa’s proposals, which include job cuts, a suspension of civil servant bonuses, wage cuts, and a range of other austerity measures.

Shocking as it is, nobody really should be shocked.

This is how it has always been with Finance ministers who dare lay out the truth.

In 1997, Herbert Murerwa, then Finance minister, against his warnings, was forced to dole out $50 000 each to over 50 000 war veterans in unplanned gratuities. The Zimbabwe dollar plunged 72% and the stock market crashed 46%.

Murerwa had warned the payouts would bankrupt the country, to which Mugabe responded: “Who ever heard of a country going bankrupt?”
Soon, Murerwa was out of work. In 2000, Simba Makoni was appointed Finance minister. It did not take him long to fall foul of the “see no evil” culture.

The economy was in crisis, he admitted in a 2001 interview. “I would have to be foolish to deny what is evident to everybody in broad daylight, even in the darkness of night.”

That was strike one. Strike two came when he tried to introduce a broad range of reforms, which included having to devalue the Zimbabwe dollar, which at the time was artificially overvalued. His boss was livid.

“Devaluation is sinister and can only be advocated for by our saboteurs and enemies of this government,” Mugabe said in 2002.

That September, Makoni left his post, and was to later quit Zanu PF and challenge Mugabe in the 2008 presidential election.

After Makoni, Murerwa was reappointed to the post. Again, it did not take too much time before the President was unhappy with him.

Murerwa clashed with Gideon Gono over the central bank chief’s printing of money to fund all sorts of “quasi fiscal activities”; from ploughs, scotch carts to vehicles. Murerwa wanted government to go lean instead, saying in a 2005 speech that “we must all make sacrifices, with ministries living within our economy’s means. There will simply be no magic solutions to our challenges.”

Mugabe did not like that either. Murerwa was too “bookish”, he said.

“They have this word they like using; quasi, quasi. But I tell them that this is the expenditure that we need. We are under sanctions, and there is no room for the type of bookish economics we have at the Ministry of Finance,” Mugabe said.

So, Mugabe needed a replacement for Murerwa.

In his previous role as Industry minister, Samuel Mumbengegwi had threatened businesses, warning he had them “under surveillance” for being “in cahoots” with the opposition. He had also told a meeting of local industry and international financiers that Zimbabwe did not need their money. “We are doing well without them”, he said.

Just the sort of Finance minister Mugabe wanted. And so in 2007, Mumbengegwi got the job. He was perhaps the worst of Mugabe’s picks for the role, stumbling around economic terms in budget speeches, butchering the quadrillions in the inflation data, and generally providing free comic relief to the opposition benches.

What Chinamasa has suffered is not isolated. Many inside government know that one does not survive long if they keep pestering the leadership with inconvenient truths.

Take comfort, poor old Patrick. You are not alone. You are just one in a long list of Finance ministers that have fallen foul of a culture that rewards lies over truth, and appeasement over logic.

There is a reason why Zimbabwean government ministers refuse to tell the truth on the economy, preferring instead to live in denial — it is just how their boss wants them.

By thwarting Chinamasa’s austerity measures, Mugabe and his Cabinet invite inevitable questions over their commitment to reforms underpinning the ongoing re-engagement process with international finance institutions.

Chinamasa has been doggedly pursuing this re-engagement since his appointment in 2013, but after having been cut off at the knees, it’s hard to see the process as anything other than imperilled.

10 Comments

  1. CentralScrutinizer

    “Devaluation is sinister and can only be advocated for by our saboteurs and enemies of this government,” What a hypocrite!!! This from the man responsible for the complete and utter destruction of the Zimbabwe dollar? It’s time Mugabe owned up to the mess he’s made of Zimbabwe. The damage his policies have inflicted, the lives he’s ruined, the family’s he’s torn apart and the thousands of people he’s murdered. Our biggest enemy is Mugabe himself. This utterly incompetent, genocidal maniac must go.

  2. If Chinamasa had a back bone,he would simply resign for being humiliated,not once,but twice in as many years.

    1. He won’t be allowed to resign. Kuramwira ani basa? Anotomirira kudzingwa kana nguva yacho yasvika.

  3. IMAGINE A PRESIDENT SAYS “when have you ever heard of a country going bankrupt” ayaz this guy has no apreciation of what economics mean how in the hell does he expect this country to prosper if he ignores what we say the writings on the wall. I still remember kuti ma wikileaks said mugabe is completly thickheaded when economics are concerned. Asiyanei ne khermer rouge yaiti we want to create an agric society so what did he do he killed all doctors proffesors and intelect what happened next a genocide took place. Isusu hatingafire ma dreams emumwe kana achida kuparadza economy yake ngaaparadze ye ma company ake ne kumba kwake not ye nyika. i bet that guy cant even survive without electricicity for a day kana mvura chaiyo or survive on hacha and baboons like he is subjecting zimbabweans to. MA POICY AKO HAAZIKUSHANDA MR ROBERT PLIZ PLIZ PLIZ PLIZ [PLIZ [PLIZ CHISIYAYI NYANGA KUNE VANOZVIGONA AN GARWE AVA

  4. #speechless

  5. The biggest problem is that Zimbabweans overrated President Mugabe’s intelligence and education. I mean, how can a man who chooses to do over seven (7) different under-graduate degrees can referred to as highly educated? He is just a master of none of those degree areas, which is why he doesnt understand business, governance, economics and democracy. Now we see the folly of calling somebody educated, who really is not!

    1. They used to say that this is what the late edison zvobgo said. They could have been lying. Mhofu chaiyo may have borrowed it from there.

  6. As long as Mugabe is in power people can forget about the re-engagement process with Western Creditors. Mugabe and IMF are like oil and water. So Chinamasa should just forget about IMF and World Bank and concentrate on printing Bond Notes. The 2008 era is upon us so lets brace up for Bond Notes/USD burning on the black market. Very soon exporters will suffer as they surrender their export receipts and queue for forex allocations to restock and retool. History repeats itself.

    1. History repeats itself indeed, Cde. Hondo. How very unfortunate. Mwari wevanhu pindiraiwo Baba. Tirikuchema vana venyu. Tatadzeiko?

  7. ” Our intelligence tells us our grain silos are full.” Hitler is famed to have been commanding non-existent battalions and brigades from about 1944 onwards and, no officer dared tell him that those structures had been wiped out by anti-German ally forces.

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