OF late, there have been contradictory statements coming out of the Information ministry and other government departments regarding various programmes and policy issues. NewsDay (ND) chief reporter Everson Mushava recently caught up with Information deputy minister, Energy Mutodi (EM), to have an insight on the cause of the ructions and the seemingly policy discord. Below are excerpts of the interview.
ND: Recently, you claimed that there was mistrust in government. What exactly did you mean?
EM: When that was said, it was in response to the unpreparedness that we found ourselves in when there was an outbreak of protests in Harare and other towns. There looked like there was no consensus as to how the protests had to be tackled.
There were reports that some in Zanu PF had supported the protests, albeit indirectly. There were others who blamed the leadership for allowing President Emmerson Mnangagwa to announce the fuel price hikes, instead of delegating the responsible minister.
Then there are those groaning and speaking against the austerity measures being implemented by the Finance minister (Mthuli Ncube). So you can see all this complexity. It doesn’t show unity to some extent.
ND: During last month’s disturbances, government issued contradictory messages. For example, you claimed that the Internet had been overwhelmed and President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson (George Charamba), in an interview with foreign media, disclosed that it had been shut down. Were the contradictions a strategy or a manifestation of the divisions in government, which I think you implied when you talked of mistrust?
EM: Definitely not. Those statements were said at different times and sometimes you need to take cognisance that, as government, we do not share everything with the public. Some things are better said in a certain manner than what the people would want. With regards to the Internet, it is true that there was congestion before we decided to switch it off.
Mobile telecommunications did not admit to this in their cautionary statements. Instead, they chose to say they had been issued with a directive to shut down Internet without acknowledging that too much traffic on social media platforms had earlier on slowed down the service.
What made us concerned, however, was the rate at which property was being damaged, police stations being burnt down and shops being looted systematically. This, therefore, necessitated the intervention measures that we made.
ND: You also claim President Mnangagwa was saved by his lieutenants. Who are these and what role did they play?
EM: Indeed, there were people who went an extra-mile to save government. The Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya made the right decision to recommend a viable price for fuel, which was then approved by the President as a way to stamp out arbitrage in the fuel sector and improve deliveries. We are beginning to see the benefits.
Again, at the height of the protests, impromptu decisions needed to be taken by the President’s inner circle notwithstanding the reputational damage those decisions would impose on the maker. The shutting down of the Internet was one such thing that looked like it was a ruthless and insensitive measure.
State Security minister Owen Ncube made the decision to stop further looting and destruction of properties, realising that criminals were organising themselves under the guise of protests to systematically loot shops and destroy properties. However, the minister consulted widely before invoking the Interception of Communications Act, which allows for communication services to be blocked, where it is suspected that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed.
ND: The MDC and other lobby groups claim Zanu PF perpetrated the violence in last month’s protests to justify a clampdown on civilians. Any comment?
EM: That’s hogwash. Zanu PF was voted into power by the people and there is no way it can deliberately impose pain on the people. We are the ruling party and we have a clear majority in Parliament. We are not fighting for any relevance like what the MDC is doing. They are going up and down trying to incite people to protest in a violent manner so that government can respond with a heavy hand to justify interference by other countries.
They timed their protests during a time the President was about to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They wanted him to be blamed for the violence and obviously fail to attract investment into the country.
ND: How do you respond to reports that some soldiers, police officers and Zanu PF youths were arrested and convicted for the same violence? Doesn’t that validate the MDC’s claims?
EM: Criminals are criminals, irrespective of whose name they commit the crimes. I doubt if there were many Zanu PF members who were netted in by the police other than those who retaliated when they were provoked by the marauding MDC youths and took the law into their hands.
Zanu PF does not thrive on violence. That having been said, it is clear who sponsored the criminals. Ask who is requesting the criminals to be released from prison? The MDC leader has done that.
He is on record saying all those who have been arrested in the recent protests must be released from prison as a precondition for talks. It needs no rocket scientist to tell you that he and his party were behind the violence.
ND: Zanu PF has been accusing the people of being driven by Western agendas when they protested last month against fuel price hikes and escalating cost of living. Why do you always think Zimbabweans need to be sponsored to think? Don’t you think the hardships they are experiencing are forcing them to protest?
EM: The involvement of political parties in the violent protests is telling. We cannot pretend as if this country has no intelligence. There is nothing that people do in their hideouts that we don’t see and hear. We have people on the ground and we are seeing regime change agents busy at work trying to author anarchy here.
We are a sovereign nation, we don’t interfere in other people’s countries, but they want to poke their nose into our affairs. Western governments create their hostile impressions through opposition parties and we reject that. We say no to undue interference.
ND: There have also been concerns that government is not sincere when it calls for austerity measures while there seems to be no appetite to cut government expenditure by the Executive, as seen when it continues to appoint advisers on top of the Cabinet and various other ministerial taskforces . . .
EM: The austerity measures are here to stay. There has never been a slim Cabinet like what we have now. The advisers you have mentioned are volunteers and they are not on government payroll. Also, you need to understand that there will never be zero spending. It’s all about re-directing resources from non-productive to productive sectors of the economy. That is the meaning and essence of austerity. It is not business as usual.
ND: Why is government vindictive when dealing with its workers? Is it that you don’t feel they have genuine concerns when they strike?
EM: Workers issues are being addressed. Where monetary compensation is difficult, there will be non-monetary benefits. We are sensitive to the plight of workers and the need to ensure we pay them salaries above the poverty datum levels.
However, we have got to agree that good salaries will come when the economy improves. We cannot enjoy while we are trying to build. We will enjoy later. Civil servants must not ask for obscene salaries seeing the economy is not yet ripe for that.
ND: You have been seen campaigning for the position of secretary for youth affairs in Zanu PF. Why do you think you deserve the position?
EM: Let me make it clear that I am not behind the current developments in the youth league. The youth league has independently given a vote-of-no-confidence in their leadership and ordinarily, there will be succession when that happens. A lot has happened in the country, but there has not been much activity in the youth league. There is a general feeling that our youth league is cold and weak. Zanu PF is the ruling party, not the opposition. We have to take the lead.
ND: The opposition MDC claims President Mnangagwa is not sincere on dialogue. Do you think he can adjust to meet the demands of the MDC?
EM: President Mnangagwa is committed to dialogue for the good of Zimbabweans. He is a well-groomed Statesman. He came out from the tutelage of former President Robert Mugabe, who, at every suitable time, would call his enemies for dialogue successfully, like we saw with the 1987 Unity Accord and the Government of National Unity in 2009.
President Mnangagwa was part of the peace initiatives during all those years. He is not new to unity talks. He is ready to talk to anyone, but we are seeing immaturity on the party of Nelson Chamisa, political bankruptcy and a hive of regime change agents and that is stalling progress.