ALTHOUGH there are many diverse actions necessary for substantive recovery of the Zimbabwean economy, among the most critical is the restoration and enhancement of most facets of the country’s infrastructure.
Column by Eric Bloch
No economy can function successfully without reliable and adequate electricity supplies, comprehensive rail, road and air transportation services, effective domestic, regional and international communication facilities, constant access to water and other utilities and public sector services, and an economically conducive national infrastructural service.
Tragically, this is not the case in Zimbabwe where most infrastructure has progressively deteriorated over the last 15-20 years. Electricity supplies are subject to extensive load-shedding, often not in accordance with scheduled times advised by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), and worsened by occasional generation and transmission faults.
Over and above the demoralising consequences thereof upon the population in general, this has adverse effects upon economic operations. Mining of Zimbabwe’s vast mineral resources is frequently interrupted, as is the irrigation of crops.
Manufacturing operations are all too often interrupted, with losses of operational inputs during processes critically dependent upon uninterrupted energy supplies.
Similarly, the commercial sector is impeded by unforeseen non-availability of electricity needed to provide power to premises, assure the operation of deep freezers, cash registers, computer systems and other key essentials.
Similarly, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is unable to function effectively and to meet the economy’s needs. Much of its rail network, approximating, 3 109 kms, requires renovation and upgrading, with an estimated 60% being functional, concurrently with less than half of its locomotives and rolling-stock operational.
According to the African Development Bank, two decades ago NRZ could convey 14 million tons of freight, but is now only able to handle one-fifth of the volume. Similarly, its passenger service carrying capacity has markedly declined.
Due to minimised operational levels of NRZ, road transportation has increased considerably, impacting negatively upon the condition of the national highways, although major rehabilitation and enhancement of the Plumtree to Bulawayo, to Harare, and hence to Mutare highway is underway, funded by loan facilities provided by Development Bank of Southern Africa.
However, completion will take time, and major work must also be pursued (when funding is available) on the roads from Beitbridge to Harare and to Bulawayo, the Harare to Chirundu and Kariba road, the Bulawayo to Hwange and Victoria Falls road, and many others. In the meanwhile, having to resort to road transport in lieu of rail services is costly, time-consuming and further impairs the roads.
Air Zimbabwe must be commended for its valiant efforts to recover from the brink of extinction, but its continuing financial and infrastructural constraints continue to preclude it providing the comprehensive services essential to commerce and industry, to significant growth of the Tourism sector and the economy in general.
The airline requires several more aircraft and needs a considerable financial injection to support and sustain full operational levels domestically, regionally, and internationally.
All too often Zimbabwean enterprises, and the populace in general, are critically hampered by communication constraints.
These range from the numerous instances when it is impossible to make inter-city telephone calls, to calls to parties in the region or further abroad.
Similarly, computer-based communication is frequently hindered due to factors including sudden non-availability of electricity, or service provider interruptions precluding Internet access.
These are some of the infrastructural deficiencies which have a marked impact upon achieving economic recovery and growth.
Such recovery would restore a virile economy, enhance employment opportunities for jobless millions, and help eradicate nationwide poverty and concomitant hardships.
Some of the other infrastructural constraints include limited and irregular water supplies in urban areas, intensive siltation of many of Zimbabwe’s dams, recurrent operational failure of local authority lighting facilities (also impeding traffic flows and controls, and compounding extent of road traffic accidents) and much, much more.
Authoritative assessments suggest a substantial infrastructural recovery requires more than US$15 billion dollars, an amount far greater than available to government and local authorities. As long as economic recovery continues to be impeded, the prospects of generating funding are nonexistent.
This is notwithstanding the admirable support given by entities such as the ADB, DBSA and some others.
Therefore it is necessary for government and local authorities to recognise that privatisation (whole or partial) of state enterprises, and some municipalities, is an incontrovertible must.
It is long overdue for Zimbabwean authorities to stop running down state enterprises through mismanagement and corruption, and instead pursue total or partial privatisation rapidly.'