AS you would rightfully expect, the market is again divided with regards to the Mutapa Investment Fund. There seems to be a class of individuals, who have made up their minds that everything that the government does is right and another, who are determined to argue that it is a waste of time.
This article is in the middle of the two views. It will discuss what the fund is all about, opportunities and threats. It will conclude with an analyst’s opinion.
Mutapa Investment Fund is a pool of resources i.e. public equities, commodity royalties and allocations from the government that will be invested in the future.
The history of the fund can be traced back to 2014 when the Sovereign Wealth Fund Act was enacted. Although it has had very little activity since its establishment, the fund has very clear objectives, such as to invest for future generations and support the country's development goals amongst others.
Recently through Statutory Instrument (S.I.) 156 of 2023, some amendments were made, including renaming the fund Mutapa Investment Fund.
Distinguished 20 state-owned enterprises, including National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and People’s Own Savings Bank (POSB) amongst others,will have their shareholding transferred into the fund over the stipulated 21-day time in the amendment. The other change includes exempting the fund from following procurement regulations to make it competitive. The custodian of the assets will be the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Believe it or not, a number of opportunities and possibilities immediately arise through the framework of such a fund and the realisation of those possibilities becomes a function of willpower, the competence of individuals in charge and a cocktail of other factors.
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Considering the non-renewable state of some of the resources available today and the fact that they are not only for the current generations but also for future generations, it might be important to reserve them or at least invest a portion of the proceeds from them.
Global best practices would be to make sure that a sovereign wealth fund invests these proceeds for generations to come.
It is common practice for commodity endowed countries to set up such stabilisation sovereign wealth funds to cater for a rainy day.
In Zimbabwe’s case when we are experiencing a booming mining industry and an increase in investments in that sector, the fund can capitalise on its share of royalties by keeping their reserves and managing them as they deem fit.
The state has proven beyond reasonable doubt, not only locally, but the world over that it might not be better placed to run companies.
Locally, most of these SOEs had become a burden as they were putting a strain on the fiscus due to their subsidised nature.
Transferring them from their line ministries into the fund allows for a market-oriented and sustainable approach to operationalising the companies.
The bureaucracies associated with ministries would be reduced and commercially viable decisions would be made quicker. However, the fund should be running like a private fund to ensure that it bears fruits.
I believe there is no doubt that privatisation has proved to be a worthwhile venture as evidenced by the transactions like Dairibord Zimbabwe amongst others.
In fact, the government has in the past five years or so hinted at privatising some of these entities, like POSB and NetOne, to mention a few.
Although no tangible results are available, it is believed that progress has been made in terms of the background work of the transactions and could be speared up once the assets have been transferred to the fund.
The idea of such a fund also comes with threats that other groups of people believe that the country might be better off without this fund. There is a need for clear structures to ensure that these threats do not end up becoming a real challenge.
Abuse of public resources
The pooled resources can easily be valued in billions, real value before any value addition has started.
With such a massive portfolio sitting under one office, away from their parent ministry oversight as it was, the temptation to abuse those resources by those who have the power and influence to do so can be very high.
This poses a threat of not only failing to meet the objectives of the fund but also the fund becoming a liability to the current and future generations if that is not clearly sorted out.
Transactions for personal gain
With the structure of the investment fund, there is animmediate threat that those, who have influence over the fund might be tempted to divert these public resources for personal gains as opposed to the intended ultimate beneficiary.
With a lack of water-tight systems in place to detect and resolve that, it is possible that some of these distressed SOEs can be cleaned up and repacked using public funds and end up being sold for a song under the guise of privatisation. The ultimate beneficiary will not benefit from such an activity.
I opine the success or failure of the fund is largely dependent on the ulterior motives of those that have power over the fund.
If the objectives are genuinely as articulated in the act, then
I think it can be achieved, but a challenge starts when there is a divergence between what is known publicly and within a few.
From the commercialisation and privatisation of parastatals, I believe the fund can be in a position to expedite that and bring results although there should be a clear audit of who will be the ultimate private player benefiting from the transaction, beyond what the share register can show.
It also becomes important for proper analysis between what the government has, meaning not under- or overstating the SOE assets, and what the private players will bring.
In my opinion, there isnot a better time to build commodity reserves than now. The mining industry revenues are projected to reach US$12 billion and the fund should benefit from its portion.
There is a lithium rush at the moment, record gold exports are being recorded and oil is being explored in the country. With sufficient reserves, I believe confidence in the currency can be restored in the market.
The team to run the fund will also be another key critical factor in determining the fate of the fund.
While the government is trying to gender balance in its appointments to executive and board positions, it should also select competent and ethical people with demonstrated experience and track record.
This is provided this fund could be the biggest single creature in the land, outside the government itself.
- Hozheri is an investment analyst with an interest in sharing opinions on capital markets performance, the economy and international trade, among other areas. He holds a B. Com in Finance and is progressing well with the CFA programme. — 0784 707 653 and Rufaro Hozheri is his username for all social media platforms