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Can the real MDC stand up?

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value,” said former US Vice-President and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Guest column:

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value,” said former US Vice-President and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Biden uses this line frequently in his campaigns to show that he still holds to the Democrats’ left leaning policies and was instrumental in the passage of Obamacare, a national health insurance that became President Barack Obama’s signature during his two terms 2008 to 2016. If Biden wins the Democratic nomination, he will face incumbent Republican Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

Zimbabwe’s 2020 budget season is upon us and consultations are taking place all over the place, but do Zimbabweans appreciate the use of budgets as a policy instrument? Finance minister Mthuli Ncube has nailed his colours to the mast and it is beyond doubt that he is a neo-liberal and would continue on his disastrous austerity measures nationally.

In other words, Ncube is the Zanu PF economics torch-bearer and is showing that the party has veered off from the left (socialist leaning policies) that the late former President Robert Mugabe represented. Zanu PF is in bed with capital and nationally that is the route we will travel if the ruling party continues in power.

However, on the other hand, we have the opposition MDC that controls all the 15 major urban local authorities (approximately 30% of national population but closer to 60% of national GDP), which are also in the middle of preparing local budgets for their respective areas. The MDC since its founding in 1999 has claimed it is RED in its policies, but over the last two decades in its economic blue-prints ART, JUICE and SMART has remarkably moved from centre left to centre right, leaving some of its supporters disillusioned about the party’s ideological leanings.

The common thread among the MDC economic blueprints is the appetite for privatisation of State-owned enterprises, labour flexibility, removal of exchange control regulations and the outsourcing of public services to private capital. This is all couched in euphemisms that the lumpen proletariat are oblivious to and would clap hands for even if they are to their economic and social detriment.

All this is said with the sweeteners that private capital creates wealth that is used to create employment for the peasants and working class, taxes to fund social spending and produces public for the consuming public.

Without running the risk of being labelled anti-MDC, let me use examples premised on the opposition calling itself a social democratic party. Social democrats are known for four major issues they stand for; health, energy, education, labour (wages and pensions) and housing.

The four issues are controlled or regulated by central government to serve public interest. Public interest is itself a contested concept but for argument sake I would stick to saying that which advances the interests of the poor and working class, who generally are the majority in any society.

The MDC is not a central government, that granted, but it has a lot it can achieve within the various local authorities it controls. So for now Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru, Masvingo, Chinhoyi, Victoria Falls, Kwekwe, Kadoma, Marondera, Bindura and Chegutu are municipalities under MDC control. Jonathan Moyo in his book; Politics of the national purse: Public budgeting as public policy in Zimbabwe, raises a critical point similar to Biden that it is the budget that can show us who you are. In other words, budget allocations or votes tell the whole story about one’s ideological position and developmental thrust.

Harare has the largest budget of any local authority in Zimbabwe. At last count before de-dollarisation the capital’s annual budget was one sixth of the national budget. Harare operates more than 30 schools, dozens of libraries, two hospitals (Beatrice and Wilkins), six poly-clinics, thousands of houses/flats, water dams and a thermal power station and employed over 10 000 workers at its peak.

In the past 15 years it has effectively run the capital since 2 000 (note, I deliberately removed the commission years) how much has the city allocated to health budget (notice the medieval diseases like typhoid and cholera)? Are there new schools built or provision of funding for the existing institutions?How many social houses has the city built in the same period? Or how well it has run the municipal pension funds for the benefit of its former workers? Alternatively, the question can be asked what are the MDC signature projects in Harare since 2000? There are no easy answers, but the city has failed providing consistent water supplies or frequent refuse collection. It cannot account for its assets (Auditor-General 2017 Harare’s audited statement).

The city over the years has been battling salary arrears for its employees and payment of statutory obligations, hence a negative score on labour.

On the other hand, despite its leftist rhetoric the city like Finance minister Ncube is on asteroids when it comes to privatisation of public resources and assets.

The city has sold or swapped large swathes of prime land to dubious investors for housing developments, outsourced refuse collection to Clean City, is seeking to divest from Rufaro Marketing the city liquor undertaking with several properties across the city. The city has sold most of its housing stock in Highlands, Greendale, Milton Park, Belvedere, Avondale and Greencroft, among other suburbs.

Public education has been privatised too. One simply has to look at the sprouting of independent or private schools in the city. The city has leased out some of its crèches to private players for profit, where the urban poor women can no longer afford to send their children for day-care.

Animal Farm, George Orwell’s epic satire reads: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Probably, it’s time the MDC leadership gets the guts like Tony Blair did to Labour by transforming it to New Labour, by rebranding to New MDC perched on centre-right and be Zanu PF cousins ideologically. Will the real MDC stand up?

Paidamoyo Muzulu writes here in his personal capacity