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Eric Bloch Column

Killing the goose that lays the eggs

ALBEIT unintentionally, I

have certainly raised the ire and fury of some, both at home and abroad, who demonstrate their unwillingness to accept that anyone with a view at variance to theirs could possibly have such opinion on the strength of good intentions. Some of my critics have verged on the edge of libel, slander and defamation when they suggest that I am a supporter of President Mugabe, his government and his party. I have repeatedly  stated over many years my total abhorrence for their policies, their contempt for the fundamentals of human rights, their disregard for basic principles of democracy and for law and order, their destruction of a vibrant economy, their alienation of the international community, and their failure to address the needs of Zimbabwe.

But that will not motivate me to believe that the vehicle to be used to oust them from power should be the further decimation of the economy, the creation of even greater poverty, and the creation of a circumstance that when finally the long overdue change occurs, there is no economy left to be built upon. Thus, no matter how vociferous my critics, I will continue to do what little may be within my ability to support the economy, minimise poverty and to contain the misery of many.

My only regret is that it is not within my ability to do more to such ends. And, because I believe that economic destruction is not the desirable path to democracy, (although it worked in instances of history such as the 1789 French Revolution against Louis XVI), I have been and continue to be opposed to mass action or work stoppages. Over the last few years, they have repeatedly achieved nothing other than  worsening the lot of the workers and their families, and reduce the economy to even greater fragility.

However, let me disabuse those who believe that I am about to lead a Reserve Bank circus around the world to motivate Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to send untold wealth to Zimbabwe. That has never been my intent and, had it been, it would have been unrealistic in the extreme. Can anyone seriously believe that the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada will gleefully give out the necessary visas for such a visit? And how many Zimbabweans abroad would attend public meetings hosted by such a circus? Certainly not those who are in employment without work permits, nor those who are political exiles!

No, the intention is to interact effectively, but in other ways, with those who are earning abroad in order to support their impoverished families at home, or to invest in Zimbabwe, according them the opportunity to do so without risk through formal channels.

Therefore, Chido Makunike, I much regret that I cannot obtain the new fuel pump for your car, or any other luxurious trinkets and toys, both because I am not going to New York, or elsewhere to promote funds repatriation to Zimbabwe, and because I have no hard currency per diem, whether generous or otherwise!

But I must thank RES Cook for his most generous compliment. After all, it has long been said that imitation is the best form of flattery, and Cook accuses me of “pontification”, notwithstanding that my pontification pales into insignificance as compared to his dogmatic vilification of my motives and my being. Clearly he and my other critics believe that the end justifies the means, no matter how harmful may be the result of using such means. I respect their right to criticise, and I respect their right to disagree with me. I do not respect their belief that I should not have like rights, and that their vehicle for criticism is one of vilification. Most of all, however, I cannot agree with them that the path towards political transformation should be to kill the goose that lays the eggs. Whilst some will survive to enjoy the change, many will not, and even more will be permanently prejudiced by the further impact of continuing economic decline. Moreover, if the goose is slaughtered, from whence will come the eggs in the future? Whatsoever reasonably can be done to preserve the basics of the devastated Zimbabwean economy should be done, so that when liberty and reason return to Zimbabwe, the goose, no matter how weakened, can then be fattened to lay its eggs once more.

Very evidently, RES Cook, Bekithemba Mhlanga of the UK,  B Mhlanga of Borrowdale, Dave Goldiner and others do not agree.

However, it is not only they who seek to kill the goose. So too does the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa). Over the years, Zesa has accumulated a mountain of debt. In part that was as a result of the government never capitalising it adequately. The inadequacy of capital forced the parastatal to resort to massive borrowings in order to develop the energy generation and distribution infrastructure. But that was not the only catalyst of the debt burden. Evidence is incontrovertible that Zesa’s operations have left much to be desired. Managerial inefficiencies have resulted in vast operational losses, even before accounting for finance costs, and those losses have driven Zesa to even greater borrowings, and consequential unsustainable debt servicing obligations.

Faced with escalating debt, lessening opportunities of further loan funding, virtually zero financial support from the government, and growing losses, Zesa has increased its tariffs. In many instances, those tariffs are more than twice those throughout the other countries in the region, and in other instances, almost threefold. Industry, mining, horticulture and numerous other economic sectors can cite endless examples of Zesa tariff increases devoid of rhyme or reason, and where the escalations are incomprehensible. They can demonstrate application of tariff increases being effected before such tariffs have been gazetted, and such increases therefore being unlawful. Over less than a year, some consumers have suffered increases in electricity supply charges from less than $10 million to over $70 million.

When representations are made to Zesa that these escalations are not only vastly greater than inflation, but are guaranteed to remove all prospects of operational viability of the consumer enterprises, Zesa has consistently demonstrated a total lack of concern. Zesa managers will attend emergency meetings of representative bodies such as the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Chamber of Mines, but will be heedless of all submissions made, no matter how well founded, and will be obdurate in the extreme, adhering to their demanded charges. The same circumstance has been the characteristic of many one-on-one interactions between industrial consumers and Zesa managers. Disregarding any and all representations made, including those which highlight Zesa’s actions without statutory authority, the Zesa managers threaten disconnection in the absence of full payment of the horrendous charges within hours.

In doing so, Zesa not only shows a total lack of concern as to the grievous economic repercussions, but also fails to recognise that, to all intents and purposes, it is committing suicide. Major mines are facing closure as a result of excessive electricity charges exceeding their gross revenues. So too are many large and small factories. As a result, if Zesa does not descend rapidly from its arrogant pedestal of inflexibility, the economy already teetering on the verge of major collapse will be cast into that collapse. Tens of thousands will become unemployed, foreign currency will be even scarcer than it is today, and Zesa will have very few customers left. Soon Zesa’s stance on tariffs will drive most of the economy to extinction, and when that occurs, Zesa will also be one of the fatalities.

It is a very old saying that one cannot squeeze blood out of a stone, but Zesa is certainly trying to do so. Instead of pursuing an uncompromising, dictatorial and destructive stance in its interactions with the private sector, Zesa should be collaborating with commerce and industry , mining, horticulture, and others to address its problems, and theirs. Concurrently, Zesa needs to pursue enhanced productivity and operational efficiencies in order to minimise costs, and needs to pressurise the government to honour its obligations to Zesa and the nation by according Zesa much-needed debt relief, and then accelerating the transition to privatisation.

Zesa must not kill the goose that lays the eggs. Instead, it should feed and nourish it.

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