Ncube scoffs at poverty reports

Mthuli Ncube

FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube has dismissed reports of high poverty levels in the country arguing that the cushion extended by government to vulnerable groups had made “instant impact” and thus eliminated poverty.

BY Tatira Zwinoira

The Finance minister made the remarks on Monday while responding to a World Bank report which revealed that one million locals had become poorer in 2019.

Ncube said transfers of $300 (US$3,68) and other non-government transfers had made an instant impact.

“Cash transfers have an instant impact, it’s very clear. Whether it’s $300 or something more, we are not the only one giving cash transfers which are enshrined in the TSP (Transitional Stabilisation Programme). It’s those organisations which you have mentioned World Bank, WFP, who also manage to source additional transfers from other organisations including the bilateral partners so those have an instant, positive impact in dealing with extreme poverty so it is being felt already,” Ncube said.

“In fact, those numbers (which) say a million more people are poorer now were just to show you — the argument or rational — why we ought to be paying cash transfers in the first place. But, having paid those cash transfers, those people are no longer extremely poor, they are not, they are better so that is instant impact. What is also instant impact is our food mitigation programme when we talk about the extreme poor here.

“When you are given your mealie meal you are no longer extremely poor in that moment, you can feed yourself and so forth and we are determined to make sure that our citizens receive these kinds of subsidies.”

Ncube’s response came at a time when teachers, doctors, nurses, and other civil servants are constantly engaging in strikes demanding better pay.

The Zimbabwe dollar, which was introduced as the sole legal tender without the required benchmarks, has been significantly eroded in value, decimating pensions and incomes denominated in the local currency.

The Treasury boss’ response also came at a time the World Food Programme reported that three-quarters of the country’s urban workforce, nearly 2,9 million based on official statistics, remain jobless.

Further, non-governmental organisations have constantly released reports with estimates pointing to over eight million Zimbabweans being food insecure.

The poverty levels have been worsened by the depreciating local unit, hyperinflation, power cuts, fuel hikes, policy inconsistency, shortages of foreign currency, business closure, and low disposable incomes leading to shrinking consumer spending.

On average, wages range between US$30 and US$175, against a cost of living of around US$250 monthly.

By his own admission, in a leaked April 2020 letter to international financial institutions, Ncube said poverty was rising to levels “not seen in recent times” and that this was expected to worsen.

In the letter, Ncube proposed a high-level dialogue on mitigating the economic and social downfall from the COVID-19 pandemic through transformative arrears clearance “short of which the country would suffer a health and economic catastrophe”.

“Everything we are doing has instant impact, I don’t know why you are not reporting on this … but these things are having an instant impact,” Ncube said at the Press conference.
“Where they are not you will find that sometimes there is a delay in terms of impact but you can be sure they will come through. Any policy that is enacted on this scale is bound to have an impact whether positive or negative and here I can assure you it will have a positive impact.”