The new government has adopted the term “Zimbabwe is open for business” as its official policy statement. I would like to argue that while in terms of rhetoric Zimbabwe may be open for business, a lot needs to be done in order to really make Zimbabwe open for business.
Dumisani O Nkomo
According to the Global Competitiveness Index produced by the World Bank Zimbabwe ranks number 124 out of 137 countries [Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018]
Importantly, the Global Competitiveness Report captures issues such as internet speed, ease of doing business and corruption using the corruption index [Wikipedia]. Given this global context, it is quite clear that Zimbabwe needs to address critical service delivery, infrastructural and economic governance issues if the country is really open for business.
The challenge of electricity
Last week, I staged a one-man demonstration to protest against Zesa Holdings’ failure to install a meter at my humble residence. It took roughly three months for the electricity utility company to connect electricity to my house from a pole which is about 20 metres away due to institutional inertia and another three months to install a meter.
In the first two months, the power utility company stated that this failure was due to non-availability of meters, which they said they had ordered from outside the country. I then procured a meter from a private company under Zesa’s customer pre-paid meter scheme and it took over two weeks for the meter to be connected.
If one whole State enterprise can fail to deliver such a basic service to one household, how can it then deliver this critical service to a broader consumer base including industry? Is Zimbabwe really ready for business when it takes over four months to connect electricity and secure meters at household level? Definitely, this is a pointer that Zimbabwe is not open for business until there is demonstrable capacity to provide basic services.
Significantly, Zesa Holdings was unbundled into over five companies a few years ago, which then created the Zimbabwe Power Company, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission Distribution Company and the Rural Electrification Agency, among others.
Obviously, this created a top-heavy structure at the expense of the consumer who has the added burden of bureaucracy because of the number of entities that have been created to supply electricity.
Assuming that the government wants to build eight million houses under command housing, thus stimulating downstream and upstream economic growth, will this be possible given an inability to install meters to a few hundred consumers?
It is quite clear that there is no institutional capacity to provide basic services such as electricity and as such no capacity for bigger infrastructural projects unless the government wants to build gigantic Dark cities with no electricity or water.
Network, connectivity issues
The advent of plastic money has assisted in easing cash shortages. This has, however, been frustrated by poor connectivity and slow internet speed, thus affecting electronic banking including services such as internet banking etc.
If Zimbabwe is to be competitive, the country has to have adequate infrastructure, including information communication technology, to ensure that investors — both local and foreign — operate in an environment that encourages electronic commerce, thus in the long-term cutting down on operational costs.
Global competitiveness entails a country having the ability to embrace e-commerce is dependent on the extent of development of digital infrastructure .
The provision of critical services such as electricity, water, internet, mobile networks and transport infrastructure is important in facilitating economic growth. No investor will sink their money in a country where systems do not work and infrastructure is depleted or non-existent.
Let’s be serious if we want Zimbabwe to be open for business. Individual residents do not have to struggle to access services when in most instances they have paid for those services. There must also be scrapping of colonial by-laws which frustrate building of houses and provision of water. This does not mean that we should lower standards or quality, but rather, we take a leaf from global trends.
Institutional and behavioural change
There must be a shift towards institutional reform, especially in parastatals and State enterprises with a mandate of providing services. There must be training of key staff in customer care so that the customer is king or queen maxim becomes corporate culture.
At the moment, most State institutions, government departments and State enterprises are far from providing responsive, transparent and timely services as enshrined in the constitution.
It does not cost municipalities or State enterprises such as Zesa Holdings anything for their employees to be courteous to customers, for example, or to provide timely information on the availability or non-availability of services.
I had to stage a demonstration to be heard, but this must not be the case as corporates may not have time to engage in such actions, but they will simply move to other countries where it is easy to do business because of efficient service delivery and minimal bureaucracy.
We have a lot to do before we are open for business, but the good news is that it is still possible.