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Eric Bloch Column

Development will be a real mirage

By Eric Bloch

IF there is anyone that President Robert Mugabe listens to, could that person please tell him that a “development cabinet” does not comprise 41 ministers — being 30 portfolio ministers, one minist

er without portfolio and 10 resident ministers for the various provinces and the two major cities. That monolithic cabinet is supplemented by 18 deputy ministers and overseen by a president and two vice presidents.

In other words, Zimbabwe has 62 overseers to manage — or mismanage! — the country, before even bringing to account the underlying tens of thousands of bureaucrats that comprise the public service, 150 parliamentarians and a proposed senate.

“Zimbabwe Ltd” has more “directors” than any corporate entity anywhere in the world, notwithstanding that some of those corporates individually have more economic activity than does all Zimbabwe. They meet many of the diverse needs of their numerous worldwide customers, greater in number than Zimbabwe’s total population.

Their human resource management is more extensive than the numbers who must be served by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. Their revenue inflows and expenditure outflows are immensely greater than those of the Zimbabwean exchequer, and yet more often do they not only sustain deficits but realise surpluses. They set themselves targets, and more often than not achieve them. When they do fail, they will generally acknowledge the causes of failure, including those attributable to others, instead of blaming others.

But should comparisons with the private sector be perceived to be invidious, is there an underlying lesson to be learnt from the fact that the Zimbabwe cabinet infrastructure is greater than that of the United States, China and all countries that comprise the European Union, including the United Kingdom?

Although those countries inevitably have varying fortunes, enjoying economic upturns and downturns, when the latter occurs they invariably address the negative circumstances constructively. They don’t try to do so by expanding their government infrastructures exponentially.

And they certainly don’t do so by retaining the services of those responsible for the economic morass, or those whose actions — or lack of actions — have weakened their countries. Those culprits of incompetence are dismissed, and usually are replaced by others with proven ability.

But that is not so for Zimbabwe. After 25 years of Independence, almost 80% of the population are suffering, with incomes far below the poverty datum line, while almost half the population barely exist below the food datum line. At least three of every four Zimbabweans wishing to be employed are unemployed, and have little hope of any change to their misfortunes.

Hospitals run out regularly of x-ray film, drugs and medications and spares to keep life-sustaining equipment operational. More motor vehicles populate fuel queues than do the country’s roads and highways. Although the country cannot feed its people, provide sufficient housing and avail all of critically needed health care, it spends many millions of US dollars buying fighter aircraft from China!

The narrative of Zimbabwean ills is so great that it alone could fill these columns.

So what does the President do to address the crisis? Over and above a continuing attribution of blame to others, including in particular the British government and Tony Blair and the United States government, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, Mugabe brings into being that which he calls a “Development Cabinet”. Momentarily, some experienced a surge of hope. The president had recognised that Zimbabwe has a desperate need for development.

It needs development to create jobs, to fuel economic activity, to generate foreign exchange and to yield inflows to the fiscus. At last something positive was about to happen!

But the euphoria was short-lived. Soon two elements of the “Development Cabinet” were recognised by many who had fruitlessly grasped at hope for change. The first was that the new cabinet was even larger than its predecessor. There were more “jobs for the boys”.

That enlarged cabinet means more ministerial salaries, fringe benefits, motor vehicles, permanent secretaries and public servants. In turn, that means more fiscal outflows, which results either in higher, inflationary deficits, or greater taxation upon an already overtaxed population, or diversion of funds from more deserving objectives.

The second characteristic rapidly seen as a factor of the “Development Cabinet” was that although, in increasing its size, some new blood was introduced into the cabinet, almost all those who had failed dismally in fulfilling their tasks and in promoting Zimbabwean well-being had been retained. In a few instances the ministers had played musical chairs, being moved from their previous portfolios and appointed to others, but overwhelmingly those who should be hiding their heads in shame for their contribution to Zimbabwe’s woes have remained in the cabinet.

Based upon performance heretofore, who can view the new cabinet with any confidence that it will bring about recovery for agriculture when, for five years, it has experienced a never-ending downward slide? Who can expect that there will be substantive urban development, including critically needed housing, and effective local government, when for five years there has beenstagnation?

Who can confidently foreshadow restoration of education to its 1980s glory, when for five years education has been in decline? And who can reasonably expect that Zimbabwe will revert to a free, independent judiciary and to a state of preservation of law and order, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, when that has been virtually non-existent forthe last five years?

Some may say: “Ah, yes, but now we have a new ‘Development Cabinet’.” However, the new cabinet includes the same ministers responsible for Agriculture, Local Government and Urban Development, Education, Justice and Home Affairs as were responsible for those portfolios from 2000 to 2005. So what realistically can be expected to change?

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