HomeOpinion & AnalysisLet the people pick the tab

Let the people pick the tab

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BY PAIDAMOYO MAZULU

HISTORY repeats itself. This may sound an old cliché, but in Zimbabwe it happens with a certain regularity. The government spends, misappropriates and embezzles funds without fear of any backlash from citizens because it knows the taxpayer in the end will pick the tab without any fuss.

This has been going on since the 1990s. The government appoints parastatal boards, senior executives and often the consultants are tasked to implement turnaround strategies that never end. These would be paid by the State — an euphemism for taxpayers.

The government, for clarity sake — Zanu PF — has had an uninterrupted control of the State since independence in 1980. Zimbabwe has known governments from only one party at Executive level, albeit the two governments of national unity, 1980 to 1983 and 2009 to 2013. The coalition partners were junior partners for lack of a better word in both cases.

This history has conflated some things, blurred the lines between government and State and between government and ruling party. Zanu PF became everything, it was the State, the government and the ruling party.

In the past two decades, successive Zanu PF governments have been showing largesse to its supporters in both agriculture and industry. Many farmers, the newly resettled, have received inputs on an annual basis on credit, but in reality, they never repaid the debt.

For the party honchos, the State has been more generous. It gave them multiple farms, tonnes of inputs and above all — all sorts of hi-tech equipment. This equipment included tractors, combine harvesters, boomsprayers, vicons, trailers, planters and ploughs.

These grand heists against the poor were legislated. The debts were taken over by the taxpayer through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Act.

Agriculture inputs debt is being taken care of through the Financial Adjustment Bill 2019. This Bill looks at taking care of US$10,2 billion.

We are talking of billions of United States dollars of public resources which were given to private persons for private gain. In developed States they call it — socialism for the rich. Why? Because when asked to fund public health or education or water they will argue it upsets budgets.

As many Zimbabweans are drowning in financial difficulties dues to the adverse economic conditions and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the sly government has seen an opportunity to further increase the tax burden on the poor and posterity.

On Tuesday, Cabinet adopted the principles of the Air Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill which were presented by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube.

The State wants to assume a new plus US$300 million debt.

“Cabinet advises that the principles underpin the drafting of the Debt Assumption Bill for Air Zimbabwe Holdings (Private) Limited and Air Zimbabwe (Private) Limited. The Bill is required to allow for the clearance of the airline’s domestic and external debt, followed by the appointment of a new board and new management to run the airline, thus permitting its exit from the Reconstruction Order,” a Cabinet statement read.

Cabinet gave false optimism over the reconstruction of Air Zimbabwe saying: “The Bill is in terms of the Public Debt Management Act as read with the Statutory Instrument 79 of 2019. It is expected that the Bill will ensure revival of the airline and its associated companies from perennial loss-making entities, into enablers of growth in tourism, trade, commerce and the economy in general.”

This is false optimism because of past experiences. Farmers who received millions in inputs support have not been producing anything significant and Zimbabwe for the past two decades has relied on food imports and aid. On the other hand, less than seven years after adoption of the RBZ Debt Assumption Act, the central bank is back in murky waters.

In fact, the bank has gone back to its ways of printing money for consumptive purposes instead of production. The country still pays out more for Executive foreign trips, a presidential helicopter, a fleet of SUVs, luxury sedans and transport and subsistence allowances.

Parliament, which is full of spineless MPs or intellectual midgets, or both ,will for the umpteenth time be railroaded to pass the Air Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill without any scrutiny.

Interestingly, the majority of the MPs don’t even understand what “prudent borrowing” in the Constitution means. It could also not be far-fetched that most of the MPs are unaware of clauses in the Constitution that deal with public debts limit.

Zimbabwe will, therefore, borrow and borrow and each successive generation will have to pay more taxes through the nose to repay these debts.

How long can a poor Zimbabwe continue to contact debt? How long can this government increase the debt burden on the impoverished taxpayers? It is a fact the rich guys have tax consultants who help them hide their profits, defer their taxes or outrightly avoid paying tax through creative accounting.

Perhaps, it is now time citizens participate in the public debt discourse and tax reform policies. Any further indifference to these matters means one thing — the government will continue to borrow without limit happily knowing the people (taxpayers) will continue to pick the tab without any fuss.

  • Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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