Way past time for boldness

ZIMBABWE needs economic reforms. That has been clear for the last decade or so. In fact, what has not been clear is why a country that so desperately needs a change in economic direction has continued lumbering its way to fiscal Armageddon year after year.


The reforms have been promised, year after year, from the time of Tendai Biti as Finance minister in 2009 and then Patrick Chinamasa from 2013. There was consensus then, as is now, that there is need for the government to cut its workforce which gobbles around 90% of its revenue.

But even then, there was no consensus as to how many workers government — the country’s largest employer — had in its employ, a subject addressed elsewhere on the pages of today’s edition.

As far back as 2015, Chinamasa is on record saying that an audit commissioned under the Government of National Unity, which ran between 2009 and 2013, was never completed because of squabbles.

Retrenchment, under former President Robert Mugabe, was a dirty word and Chinamasa, more than anyone else, suffered for daring to take bold steps necessary to fix the creaking economy.

Chinamasa was a surprise pick for the finance portfolio when Zanu PF won elections that ended the coalition government with the rival Movement for Democratic Change formations.

After a stint as acting Finance minister when the government made its first steps towards dollarisation before the advent of the coalition government in 2009, he was viewed as a good pick, a rational guy who would make bold decisions.

He was practical, and stuck to the International Monetary Fund’s staff-monitored programme, which had been agreed to by his predecessor Biti and doggedly pursued re-engagement with the western funders.

But, of course, he was hemmed in at every turn by Mugabe. Budget deficits skyrocketed, as government went on a borrowing spree — from the local market — compounding the foreign currency crisis and fuelling inflation.

In 2016, Mugabe publicly rebuked him for announcing a “Cabinet decision” on austerity measures which included job cuts, suspension of civil servants’ bonuses, wage cuts among others, which would have taken some $200 million off its huge wage bill over three years.

A year later, Mugabe demoted Chinamasa to run a newly created Cyber Security ministry just before his ouster from office in a de facto coup.

So, this is 2018, Emmerson Mnangagwa has succeeded Mugabe as President and he has gone for a “bold” choice in Mthuli Ncube as Finance minister. Ncube, with an impressive CV and global standing, is facing the same choices his predecessors have faced.

“My preference is a fiscal shock, but there is what you call the political collar or the politics of policy making, which then slows you down. My preference would be more of a big bang approach because everyday counts in terms of cost,” Ncube told journalists on the sidelines of an investor conference in New York, the United States, on Friday.

A “big bang” economic reform programme, he called it. Zimbabwe is way past time for bold decisions, but crucially for Ncube, he seems to be reading from the same script as his principal. Well, almost.

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  1. It looks like Mthuli has been tamed. He is now part of the eating brigade. His confession about a “political collar” is quite revealing. The fellow is now on leash. He is now all about feeding his own big stomach. Don’t expect anything tangible from him, though now and then he will be giving false promises to trigger false hopes.

  2. The tragedy with people like Minister Ncube; who have allowed the honour of being appointed minister get to their heads, so they cannot see the trees from the woods; is they will drag the nation through hell only to get nothing at the end of the day because the fundamentals for meaningful economic recovery were not there. The failure by this Zanu PF junta to keep its promise of holding free, fair and credible elections has serious implications that only a fool can ignore.

    Like it or not the much hoped for flood of investors whose financial input is important to help kick start the economy will never materialise. Investors do not like to invest in a pariah state whose next regime change has to be another military coup or a blood bath, since the regime has already shown its thirsty for shedding innocent blood is unquenchable.

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