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Eric Bloch Column

The election and Homelink

By Eric Bloch

IT is very understandable and justifiable that many, if not most, of the over three million Zimbabweans abroad are bitter and angry that they were precluded from voting in yesterday’s election

. Although they are presently not living in Zimbabwe, they have proudly retained their Zimbabwean citizenship, and especially so as the overwhelming majority of them have a pronounced interest to return to Zimbabwe at a future date.

While some are away from Zimbabwe as self-imposed political exiles and a few because they are perceived to have committed economic crimes and are desirous of defending themselves, they are unconvinced that they will be accorded justice and an opportunity of such defence, fearing that instead they will be incarcerated for prolonged periods without trial.

However, the bulk of the Zimbabweans abroad have been driven there by economic circumstances. Either they have been unable to achieve acceptable employment in Zimbabwe — thanks to the extent that the government has destroyed the economy — with a resultant level of unemployment of almost 80%, or they have had to seek employment in countries where currency has a meaningful value in order to support destitute families at home, or to accumulate capital to fund future Zimbabwean enterprise development.

In essence, their being abroad is a direct consequence of the manner whereby the government has brought the Zimbabwean economy to the edge of the precipice of collapse.

However, whatsoever the reason for the Zimbabweans to be abroad, it is near impossible to justify that, as Zimbabweans, they shall not be able to cast a vote in parliamentary elections. The only exception is that those in the armed and uniformed forces on duty beyond Zimbabwe’s borders are entitled to postal votes. Other Zimbabweans are not!

This is blatantly discriminatory and effectively treating the Zimbabweans abroad as second-class citizens. Undoubtedly the sole motivation behind that discrimination is an awareness on the part of the government that most Zimbabweans abroad would not vote for the ruling party.

So much for the governmental contentions of a free and fair election and that Zimbabwe is a democracy! The facts speak otherwise, for virtually all democracies respect the right of all citizens, wherever they may be, to vote, albeit by recourse to postal votes.

Be that as it may be, and as justifiable as the fury and ire of the Zimbabweans abroad is in the light of the injustice to which they are subjected, by depriving them of their vote, nevertheless they are misguided when they seek revenge by avoiding the Homelink in remitting monies home, and by their scathing allegations that Homelink is an arm of government and, therefore, should not be supported.

The facts are radically in conflict with the contention. In fact, by resorting to alternative avenues to use their foreign currency earnings to assist their families in Zimbabwe, or to accumulate capital in Zimbabwe, they are actually doing a disservice to their families, themselves and the Zimbabwean economy as a whole.

In the first instance, although it cannot be denied that the Reserve Bank is owned by the state, nevertheless it is very substantially an independent central bank. It does not operate as an arm of the government, as a tool of government in economic matters, or as a vehicle for the implementation of the policies of the ruling party.

It operates in a manner so as to stimulate economic stability and growth, ensure effective and constructive monetary policies, establish and maintain good and sound corporate governance in a financial sector where many were previously lacking in that attribute, and to fulfil the obligations and duties of an independent central bank.
Inevitably some of its policies will, from time to time, accord with those of the government, and equally inevitably some of its policies will be misguided, albeit in good faith.

But that does not justify the contempt for the Reserve Bank demonstrated by some Zimbabweans abroad. Moreover, it certainly does not justify tarnishing Homelink with the brush of hatred that most Zimbabweans abroad have for the government. Instead of supporting Homelink unreservedly as a safe, secure, fast and reliable vehicle for internalising funds into the country, many Zimbabweans resort repeatedly to the unlawful parallel and black markets. Predominantly, there are two motives for doing so.

First and foremost is that of maximising the exchange rate. At the present time, the parallel and black markets are offering rates of exchange more than twice that attainable through remittances through official channels.

While the diaspora rate payable by Homelink is US$1: $6 200, the parallel market is offering a rate in excess of US$1: $14 000. This is understandably attractive to the Zimbabwean abroad seeking to give as much assistance as possible to family and dependants at home.
The second is in order not to support Homelink.

However, the Zimbabwean abroad needs to be conscious of three key factors which militate against attaining the parallel and black market exchange rate, as against the rate realised from inward remittances through official channels. Firstly, there is a steadily increasing number of reports of parallel market dealers absconding with the foreign currency sold to them by their clients, and failing to effect the agreed payment in Zimbabwe dollars.

In almost the same way, other dealers do pay out to the intended Zimbabwean recipients but do so at a lesser exchange rate than had been agreed. Many of the black market dealers resort to equally, or even greater, frauds, paying for foreign currency with bundles of supposed bank notes, whereas in practice genuine notes are only near the top and bottom of the bundles, and newsprint is placed inside the banknote “sandwich”. Thus, there are recurrent instances of Zimbabweans abroad being swindled and losing much, if not all, of their hard-earned foreign exchange. Their anxiety to maximise on exchange rates turns them into victims of dealers in the illicit parallel market.

Yet another risk is faced by those who trade in the parallel and black markets. The authorities have been vigorously intensifying their efforts to contain the operation of those markets.

They are becoming increasingly successful at exposing and arresting illegal currency dealers and, when they do so, any foreign currency found in their possession is confiscated, whereupon the dealers fail to honour their commitments to make payment for the foreign currency that they have purchased.

The third and very significant factor that the Zimbabweans abroad need to be conscious of is that, in fuelling the parallel and black markets, they are severely harming the Zimbabwean economy, to the prejudice of all Zimbabweans at home, including the families and dependants which the Zimbabweans abroad are seeking to help.

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