HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsMthuli’s 700 000 forgotten households

Mthuli’s 700 000 forgotten households

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Stir The Pot :Paidamoyo Muzulu

TODAY marks the seventh month since Zimbabweans went under the COVID-19 induced lockdown.

Seven months of reduced economic activity, a period that has reduced a lot of the urban and peri-urban residents to penury.

A period that has exposed the insensitivity of the administration hell-bent on having impressive figures on the balance sheet.

Many people on March 30 when the lockdown started hoped it would be for a sharp and short period, probably not more than 90 days at worst if our tropical weather pattern was put in the equation.

The astronomic infections and deaths recorded across the world were generally from countries that experience extreme cold in their winters.

Zimbabwe is generally warmer than those countries — even South Africa that has Mediterranean weather particularly in the Western Cape.

The pandemic changed the economic environment. Some things will never get back to normal. Technological companies saw their values shoot over the top.

Jeff Bezos the Amazon czar has accumulated over US$15 billion to his value. This is the same man who paid out US$40 billion to his former wife as a divorce settlement.

However, COVID-19 has created an opportunity for many people to order online, thus giving Amazon — the largest online supermarket — a large slice of the depressed economy.

It was not only commonsensical but also the only pragmatic solution that government provided economic stimulus packages.

These packages were meant to, among other things, cushion those who lost their sources of income during the lockdown and naturally to help vulnerable companies stay afloat.

Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube like other ministers across the globe developed a bailout that is relative to the country’s economic fortunes.

Ncube announced a number of stimulus packages — an $18 billion stimulus package for industry and $600 million social safety net for the vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

The $18 billion industry bailout was touted as 9% of the national gross domestic product. This is no mean figure.

However, six months after these bailout packages were announced, many workers have lost their jobs and some companies closed altogether.

The majority of vulnerable people who were supposed to be taken care of by the social safety nets have slipped through the net and are having it rough.

This is not my imagination — I will stick to government figures even if they look fudged.

In his own words, Ncube acknowledged the informal sector had it bad. “The lockdown was prescribed as a way to arrest the further spread of the pandemic and that way saving lives and livelihoods. However, these interventions inevitably had a negative impact on economic activity, with the large informal sector affected most severely,” Ncube told the Southern Africa 26th Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) meeting this week.

To put issues into context, I turn to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency latest survey on poverty and social impacts of COVID-19, which says an estimated 21% of workers lost their jobs due to business closures induced by lockdown and retrenchments and that a massive 40% of urban wage workers that kept working saw their pay reduced
significantly.

It is important that we note the promise made during the announcement of the $600 million cash transfer programme for the vulnerable. Ncube said that one million families were to get $300 monthly.

There was no clarity on how the beneficiaries were selected, it was fuzzy and at one point the minister said they would use a special algorithm to identify beneficiaries.
However, what has emerged is that according to Public Service and Social Welfare minister Paul Mavima, only 187 000 households received the cash transfers. This is a paltry one in five of those initially targeted.

Ncube and Mavima this time around have chosen to stay mum about the numbers of beneficiaries.

In comes Lands, Water and Rural Resettlement permanent secretary John Bhasera, who said: “Initially, we were paying $180 per household, but with rising inflation, we raised the figure to $300 and currently, we are finalising with the Ministry of Finance to raise this intervention to around
$1 000 per month per household.”

Bhasera intimated that the programme was reaching 300 000 families.

This is a jump of 113 000 households from the last figure given by Mavima.

However, the new revised figure still shows two out of three households targeted are still going empty-handed.

This is a massive 700 000 households forgotten by the system.

What is worrying is Ncube an economics don is behaving like an accountant — his eye always on the bottom line.

This is the same minister who at every opportunity gloat that Treasury has made a surplus at every budget review.

If his figures are correct, which I doubt, then Ncube is a sadist who enjoys seeing people wallowing in poverty.

How dare he pronounces a surplus but cannot feed 700 000 households who by his own planning are vulnerable and in dire need of handouts.

Ncube should stop this attitude of trying to please the International Monetary Fund with impressive budget balancing act while Zimbabweans die of poverty.

He should show Parliament where the stimulus package really went to and why he missed his target? The
700 000 forgotten households are just too much and unacceptable.

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