guest column:Eddie Cross
If there is one thing our leadership has to understand as we approach Christmas this year, it is that in 2020, we cannot continue to do things the way they have been done in the past decade. We go out of 2019 with so many areas of failure in terms of policy and activity that it is difficult to pick them out and deal with them one by one. So this weekly letter is going to cover my personal wish list for my country in 2020.
The first item are these wretched shortages: Fuel, power and food basics. Once any product is in short supply you lose control of its price and distribution. In addition, these particular commodities are critical to everything we do and live on. We are no longer short of foreign exchange. In 2019, the fundamental reforms implemented under the Transitional Stabilisation Programme have given a huge boost to our export industries and official inflows of hard currency has exceeded our needs for the very first time in many years. My estimate is that total receipts this year will exceed US$7 billion while direct imports of all our essentials will only reach US$5,6 billion.
If I value all the critical commodity imports listed above, the cost comes to about US$200 million a month — well within our capabilities. But in every field you have State-owned entities (SOEs) that are deeply corrupt and technically bankrupt. Without any credibility in the market place, they cannot order supplies from anyone without cash in hand and that they simply do not have. What we do have is a functioning private sector with a decent balance sheet and reputation. We have to switch procurement of these essential commodities to the private sector and use the infrastructure of the SOEs to deal with logistics and storage.
The second item on my wish list is property rights. It is time that we recognised, as a nation, not just in government, that property rights are sacrosanct. If we do not have a legal system and a government or even a national perspective on this issue, we are going nowhere.
Private ownership of property — intellectual or other, is fundamental to the process of accumulation and value addition as well as a functioning banking system. People only look after what they own, nothing else.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we as a country, are now faced with the harsh reality that our climate is changing. The only way we can manage that process on the ground is to have a million farmers who own and control the land they make a living from.
State ownership and communal ownership simply will not be able to handle the magnitude of the climate-induced problems that are coming. Israel turns desert into flourishing farms — but always on the fundamental premise that the land that is being cultivated is owned by the Kibbutz or the Commune or the company or individual.
We need, at the very least, a long term bankable lease for land that is protected by law and law enforcement against violation and abuse. The days of a connected individual targeting a prime property and then forcing the owners to flee with their clothes in bags, must be a thing of the past. We have started on this process in 2019, but we need now to make it automatic and visible. Without tenure, our farmers will not put in contours, irrigation or plant trees. They will simply rape the land for profit and abandon it when it can no longer yield a return more than the cost of getting there. What we are doing now is simply not working — for anyone.
My third wish on the list is to adopt policies that recognise the value of foreign exchange and the need to use it responsibly and on a market-driven allocation basis. Right now we have a system that transfers control over foreign exchange from those who have earned it to people who control its allocation as a source of power, influence and privilege. We may now be paying the earners a real market price, but this is only in a local currency that is not convertible outside the country and is unstable. The temptation to take this scarce resource and allocate it at a subsidy or to simply make it available because you can, is just too much of a temptation.
Just look at the lifestyles of those who control these artificial levers of power – they are all living way beyond their personal means.
We need to do what all successful States are doing — create a market for foreign exchange that is open, transparent and accessible to all. Then we need to direct all foreign earnings onto that market and allow anyone who wants foreign exchange for any legitimate purpose, access to the market at a market price. That is what happens in Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. Why not here? The good thing here is that we are on our way to doing just this, but there are many who will fight the changes to protect their privileges and power.
My fourth wish is that we as a nation must strive in 2020 to agree on where we are going as a country. The Bible says that a ”house divided cannot stand” and that ”a nation without vision will perish”.
At present we are stuck with both problems and we must accept that unless we get to grips with this issue we will not make real progress and maintain our stability. When the ANC met nearly 100 years ago to agree on the ”Freedom Charter”, they laid the foundation for the subsequent struggle and rise to power. We need to meet together as a nation State and agree on where we want to be in 100 years and how we are going to get there.
Then we need a binding social contract to guide policy and government and to lay down the fundamental principles which we will all adhere to and live by.
This is part of African culture and tradition and is also the very foundation on which a successful State is developed.
Consensus in national life is very powerful and should not be that difficult to secure if we all work at it and our leaders accept its need. Making decisions at a national level in our different silos of interest and authority is simply not working. The danger of moving into the future without a road map is that we will get lost, if we are not lost already.
My fifth wish is that we get to grips with how we manage our local authorities. What we are doing now is just not working. Would any of us select the sort of Councillor that is in charge today if the City was our company? The answer is no, never in a month of Sundays — it is just beyond most of them. The City or Town is a vital part of the State and in many ways what goes on there is more important than Parliament or Central Government. We need to be able to elect independent and professional men and women to the Councils. The situation in most urban areas has now reached crisis proportions in respect to service delivery.
Finally, our leadership must recognise that no Nation can make its way in the world of today without good education and health services. We spend a lot of money on both, but performance is deteriorating and fast. If we do not get this right we put all our futures, not just the next generation, at risk. We need to change the way we fund both systems and learn from other Nations that are doing a much better job of delivery. We do not have to invent solutions — they are already in the market place of ideas. We need a system that will pay our professionals what they are worth, determined by their value to our society and not determined by some bureaucrat in an office in Harare.
Am I crazy to expect such fundamental changes from Father Christmas? Does our leadership really have the best interests of our people at heart? I have to believe that both are true. I go back to Obama when he was speaking to young people in America ‘Can we do this? Yes, we can!’ I have no doubt we can find ourselves in 2020 and then map out a way out of this morass into a decent future for everyone.