By Paidamoyo Muzulu
PRESIDENT Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is playing the smokes and mirrors game with Zimbabweans. He knows how to throw a ruse and distract his audience. This time, he played another trick on the electorate when he launched the “performance-based contracts” for Cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries and chief executives of State-owned enterprises.
The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) last weekend started flighting full-page adverts in the State-controlled media on the new “innovation” — performance-based contracts for senior civil servants and chief executives at parastatals.
This is a well-orchestrated move as the country moves towards the 2023 general elections. A move that will blind and sidestep the electorate to think he is a man of action.
Let us for a moment go back to his short history post-November 2017 coup to establish his modus operandi.
Mnangagwa in his inauguration speech spoke like a true Statesman. He promised that the past was gone and Zimbabwe was walking into a new chapter — a chapter he termed the second republic, a chapter he promised to mend the economy, create jobs, decisively deal with corruption, respect the rule of law and ensure that Zimbabwe rejoins the community of nations such as the Commonwealth.
He came out of the block quicker than Usain Bolt on the issue of externalisation.
His office published a list of local and foreign companies and individuals who allegedly externalised millions of foreign currency.
In an accompanying statement, Mnangagwa said he gave companies and individuals three months to repatriate the funds to Zimbabwe. Neutral observers said he was on the correct path, but this was before China issued a statement in response.
China denied its citizens or companies had externalised. The Asian giant asked for further particulars and in a subtle way, reminded Mnangagwa who had kept Zimbabwe on its feet in the past two decades, when the West imposed economic sanctions on it.
After the three months lapsed, Mnangagwa did not say anything and the matter of foreign currency externalisation died a natural death. Mnangagwa proved to have a loud bark without a bite.
On corruption, Mnangagwa did the same. He established the Special Anti-Corruption Unit housed in the OPC.
Nearly four years after its establishment, it struggles to show its success. In simpler terms, the unit has not had any successful high-profile conviction to talk about.
Mnangagwa, as a face saver, long after citizens complained, finally threw Health minister Obadiah Moyo to the wolves, but he received five-star treatment and many were left wondering if he had been arrested because he was out before one could call out “corruption is killing Zimbabwe”.
On the rule of law, Mnangagwa has to date passed two constitutional amendments.
Ironically, both amendments substantively took Zimbabwe back in time — back to the imperial presidency of 1987.
The President now has power to appoint the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice, Prosecutor-General without having them subjected to interviews as the 2013 Constitution had envisioned.
The other amendment removed the running mate clause, and now allows the President to promote judges high up the bench without interviews and watered down devolution. So much for the new dispensation.
Command agriculture has remained a conduit for siphoning State resources.
In the November 2021 debt statement tabled by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, farmers’ repayment rate is at 15% and yet the debt has been guaranteed by the State.
Back to the performance-based contracts, why now? It is ironic because the President has power to fire any minister even without a reason.
Mnangagwa has so far fired two ministers, Moyo and Owen Ncube (State Security), this did not need this newly-launched performance-based contract.
Parastatals have boards where the chief executives report to. Is it a tacit concession by the President that the boards appointed to run parastatals are incompetent and mere window-dressers that he now needs chief executives to be accountable to him?
In the new programme, these senior officers will be evaluated on four main things: Delivery, efficacy, management and implementation.
It begs the question that Mnangagwa has chosen to go public about the evaluation criteria, it is important for him to take into confidence the public about the duties and targets that these officers are expected to do be also made public.
Failure to put these documents into the public domain will expose the performance-based contracts move as a mere public relations stunt, where Mnangagwa wants to be seen to be doing something.
It is interesting to note that Mnangagwa as an afterthought in his fourth year as he decided that permanent secretaries and chief executives need to have their performance appraised annually.
The first appraisal is due only two months before a general election in 2023.
What effect will wielding the axe have on under-performing senior officers at the end of his term?
A ruse to the electorate that he means business and get re-elected and most probably reappoint them after elections?
Mnangagwa is creating a diversion for the public not to evaluate his performance in his first term and make secretaries and chief executives his scapegoats.
The question is: Have Mnangagwa delivered on his manifesto? Did he create jobs?
Has the energy supplies improved? Has health service improved? Is there quality and affordable education? And has the roads infrastructure improved?
The answer is simple: Mnangagwa has largely failed to deliver on his promises and most likely will further fail even in his second term because the economic model he is choosing does not address the things in his manifesto.
Privatisation of services is anti-poor and therefore the majority of Zimbabweans.
That is why Mnangagwa is fixated with quantitative and not qualitative measurements.
The man has failed, no matter how many mirrors he puts in front of the public.
- Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.