Editor’s Memo

Queue-land
Vincent Kahiya

IS there such a thing as deliberate inefficiency? Some might argue that deliberate inefficiency is a good thing if it keeps people employed. This appears to be t

he motivation for many members of our civil service. Inefficiency creates a false impression that they are swamped with work.


That is why the standing in line to get in and out of the country at Beitbridge could take up to three hours in some instances while two immigration officers leisurely process thousands of incoming passengers and other posts remain closed. It is the same story at the Harare City Council’s Rowan Martin banking hall.


This explains why long queues have become permanent fixtures at the Registrar-General’s office. There are also queues at the Vehicle Inspection Department for those wanting to get drivers’ licences.


Investors wanting to open new businesses in Zimbabwe are subjected to long periods of waiting as their documentation is taken from one office to another or is completely forgotten about.


At Parirenyatwa hospital on Monday there was evidence of this institutional disease when a man who had been knocked down by a car lay writhing on a stretcher as nurses chatted and compared their fingernails. Zimbabwe has become a country of queues where self-important bureaucrats preside over the powerless multitudes who have to endure humiliating instructions of “sit down”, “stand up”, “don’t lean against the wall” and so on.


A small argument between a client and an officer can result in hours of delay, hence instructions must be followed without question. These officers really enjoy power. They are demi-gods.


Deliberate inefficiency ensures that service delivery by public officers is carried out at glacial speed, akin to the North African tectonic plate grinding toward the European. The snail’s pace and false piety with which things eventually get done are characteristic of the corruption and deliberate inefficiency of most of our bureaucrats and managers.


Therein breeds corruption. A passport that usually takes months to be issued can be obtained at the supersonic speed of a day and a driver’s licence can be obtained without the learner even going for a road test if the right inducement is paid.


This is the same country where a five-kilometre road can be built in a fortnight if “big” cars are to travel on it (remember Carrick Creagh in Borrowdale?) while a pothole is only repaired after five years or when a fatal accident occurs. An engine overhaul can be done on a minister’s car in a week while getting wheels for an ambulance can take years.


Why then, one wonders, does this very capable nation and its government, which on occasion can move with massive force (remember Operation Murambatsvina or an NCA demo?) proceeds so often at the pace of biological evolution?


This is because the system has been corrupted so much that inefficiency brings in more rewards to public officials than formal wages. Public officials, now celebrated as “tycoons”, will continue to prosper in this environment, not because of entrepreneurial vision but their brazen shamelessness. They are focused, along with the rest of the political elite, on the profits that doing business within and with government alone can bring.


Vice-President Joice Mujuru was last week warning such officials in frank yet very strong terms, which shows that government is well aware of the problem. A month ago, I wrote in this column that the country needed a moral leader to mobilise the country towards acting positively. Mujuru is positioning herself as the guardian of honourable behaviour. I am tracking her progress in this area to see if she can rid the RG’s office of queues, cleanse customs and immigration officers of lethargy and corruption, ensure there is water in Harare and Bulawayo and that Air Zimbabwe does not fly three passengers for thousands of kilometers in a 250-seater plane. So far there is not much on the scorecard.


On Tuesday, I bade farewell to one of the best columnists to have graced our opinion/editorial pages since the launch of this paper, Chido Makunike.

It is strange isn’t it that Makunike, gifted with some of the best analytical minds and writing skills, is in fact a gardener. His handshake says it all.


He is leaving the country and his landscaping business to take up a new job as coordinator of the Africa Organic Service Centre (AOSC) in Dakar, Senegal. AOSC is part of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). That is a much bigger garden for him to work.


In a statement announcing the appointment IFOAM said Chido Makunike was a “recognised leader in the African environmental and organic initiatives”.


“Known for excellence in journalism by many southern African readers, Makunike is strongly supported by the organic movements in Zambia and Zimbabwe.”


René Fischer, director of the Zimbabwe Organic Producers’ and Processors’ Association, said Chido’s passion for the organic movement combined with his highly tuned skills for critical analysis will serve the African organic industry well.


I wish him well in his new job.