Finance Minister Ncube Dreams Blossoming Roses in Arid Desert Sands

The report by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube on progress made on political and economic reforms does not to paint the full picture showing the inadequacy of their implementation.

In a report titled Progress on Economic and Structural Reforms in Zimbabwe, Ncube pointed that economic and political reforms that have been implemented include the repeal of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), alignment of the constitution, ongoing constitutional amendments, the return of the local currency and operationalising the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (Zida), among others.

However, the progress that Ncube points out is divorced from the reality on the ground.Despite the repeal of Posa, meant to increase the democratisation process, government has tightened restrictions on demonstrations. Several protests by opposition parties and civil society have been brutally crushed with security forces assaulting and arresting those who demonstrate. Since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took office in 2017, more than 20 people have been shot dead during demonstrations.

Plans for the protest on July 31 resulted in the arrest of opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and MDC Alliance deputy national chairperson Job Sikhala charged with inciting violence. The arrests have prompted global censure of government. Among those who added to the chorus of condemnation of human rights abuses are the United States, the European Union and closer to home the African Union. Even the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference supported by the World Council of Churches have also slated government.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, which came to power on the back of a coup, is now regarded as an authoritarian government globally despite promising to put Zimbabwe back on the table of nations through a re-engagement programme. The re-engagement programme is truly off the rails, such that the Zanu PF government is attracting criticism from its African peers such as the African Union and South Africa’s African National Congress.

This makes Ncube’s so-called progress on political reforms a fallacy.

Ncube’s claim that the constitutional amendments are part of ongoing reforms will find few takers. Government’s plans to make a raft of changes under Constitutional Amendment number 2 have been met with trenchant criticism with accusations that the amendments seek to ignore the will of Zimbabweans who voted overwhelmingly for the new Constitution in 2013. The amendments are widely seen as Mnangagwa’s attempt to further entrench his power. These include clauses that enable the septuagenarian leader to handpick judges without them going through public interviews.

Ncube’s glowing report is far removed from the reality on the ground, according to business consultant Simon Kayereka.

“The report reads like a very good novel with a successful conclusion. It paints a positive picture on every aspect of our economy and other areas. He has to be commended for being as close to the vision as possible. Unfortunately, this is where it ends,” Kayereka said.

“If one was to balance the report, you would also analyse the situation on the ground. On the legal front, the repeal of Posa has been overshadowed by events on the ground. I think the starting point should be learning from our failures and then building up rather than telling glorified stories. We have huge potential which is matched by a trust deficit. We should also get rid of grand corruption in every sector public and private. Investors want to see this otherwise we will be writing academic papers for the next decade.”

Probably the most contentious of those listed as positive reforms is the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar as the sole legal tender in June last year through Statutory Instrument 142. The move resulted in the rapid freefall of the local unit against the greenback which has led to the skyrocketing of prices with incomes and pensions denominated in the local currency massively losing value. The local unit was introduced without vital benchmarks which include attaining a sustainable GDP growth rate of at least 7%; low and stable inflation; reducing the high debt ratios to very low and sustainable levels; increasing the level of savings and investments to at least 25% of GDP; reducing the balance-of-payments and at least six months import cover.

The report by Ncube shows that the Finance minister is “living in cloud cuckoo land”, according to political analyst Dumisani Nkomo.”The report shows the level of delusion in government,” Nkomo said.

“When you have people arrested for exercising their rights it shows that there is no respect for the letter and spirit of the Constitution. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that bringing back the local currency is not reform. It is actually a deform if you look at what it has done to wages and salaries. Mthuli is living in cloud cuckoo land far removed from reality.”

The weakened currency has stoked inflation which has galloped past the 800% mark. This has created a restive workforce which is demanding to be paid their salaries in foreign currency, a demand government cannot afford to implement. Health workers, who have been on strike for more than two months that has endangered the lives of patients and at a time there is a surge in Covid-19 infections, have made payment of salaries in foreign currency a non-negotiable condition if they are to return to work. Similarly, civil servants have said they will only negotiate for US dollar salaries. Efforts to pacify workers with Covid-19 allowances of US$75 have been futile.

Government’s decision to introduce dual pricing of goods in both the local and foreign currency after legislating for the use of the Zimbabwean dollar as the sole legal tender is a tacit acknowledgement of the dismal failure of the mono-currency regime. The report on reforms, it seems, is much ado about nothing.

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