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Eric Bloch Column

NEDPP requires infrastructural transformation

By Eric Bloch

THE National Economic Development Priority Programme (NEDPP) very correctly gives some recognition to the critical importance of Zimbabwe having an economically

conducive infrastructure, albeit that NEDPP does not necessarily acknowledge the very extent to which the existing infrastructure has degenerated, has become decrepit and ineffective, and grievously hinders existing economic activity, let alone economic growth.

Only the intentionally obtuse and myopic will deny that the magnitude of the deterioration in energy supply services, water delivery, telecommunications, roads, airport facilities, and much else, is gargantuan, causing immense disruptions to the economy, deterrents to investment (both domestic and foreign), and great discomforts and frustrations to the population at large.

The frustrations have been very considerably exacerbated by the fact that all have been very conscious and aware, for an extended period of time, that much of the Zimbabwean infrastructure was progressively becoming less and less effectual, and that the prospects of cataclysmic collapse were rapidly intensifying.

The demoralisation and the distresses have become greater and greater as the populace increasingly perceived gross inactivity on the part of many of the authorities to acknowledge adequately the realities of the circumstances, and on the strength of such acknowledgement to address the issues, prevent further decline, restore the infrastructural resources, and then develop them sufficiently to meet national needs.

Probably foremost in the minds of many is the pronounced inadequacy of energy supply. For some years it has been publicly recognised that by 2007 the southern African region would be confronted with an insufficiency of energy supplies as demand increased. However, save for much talk, very little appears to have been done to pre-empt such catastrophic circumstances, with the only major exception being that Mozambique has decided to embark upon another major hydro-electric scheme on the Zambezi. Downstream of Cahorra Bassa, Mozambique has sourced the required funding from the Chinese Export-Import Bank, and is vigorously pursuing the project.

However, the earliest that it will be generating power is 2010!

Zimbabwe has talked extensively of refurbishing and enhancing its thermal power stations, of a possible new thermal power station fuelled by Sangwa coal, and of enhancement of Kariba’s electricity generation but as yet, there is naught to be seen of the talk. Instead, the existing, rapidly ageing, inadequately maintained, electricity generation facilities, and the national distribution grid, has become less and less able to meet national needs. The result is a combination of very pronounced, scheduled load-shedding and extremely frequent power supply breakdowns in consequence of innumerable faults.

Industry, commerce, mining, tourism and residential areas have all been very seriously impacted upon. Some have resorted to installation of generators, thereby increasing further the demand for limited availability of petroleum products. Most have had to suffer the consequences of costly production interruptions and domestic discomforts.

The immense courtesy and attentiveness of those who man Zesa’s telephonic services of faults are, unfortunately, not matched by commensurate actions to upgrade appropriately the electricity network. And until that occurs, not only will the discomforts continue (and probably intensify), but investors will continue to have great reservations as to the merits of investment.

Similar circumstances characterise the production and supply of coal. So appallingly limited is the present capacity of Hwange Colliery Company to meet national needs that more and more industries are having to resort, in desperation, to using scarce foreign exchange resources in order to import coal.

Zimbabwe has the largest deposits of quality coal in sub-Saharan Africa, and yet it is reduced to importing ever-increasing volumes of coal in order to keep industrial boilers operational. Incongruous and untenable in the extreme!

Telecommunication services are yet another major hindrance to the effective functioning of the economy. Whether resorting to land-line services, or to any of the mobile networks, there is an ongoing aggravation, and very considerable constraint upon economic activity, of endless signals stating “network busy”, matched only by the frequency that calls are suddenly terminated by losses of signal, followed by endless attempts to reconnect and a multiplicity of calls to complete one conversation resulting in massive cost escalations highly beneficial to the “providers” of the telephonic services, but a significant, excessive overhead burden for the consumers.

Many of Zimbabwe’s major cities and towns now suffer erratic supply of water or rationing, and almost all of them have road networks which are fast becoming horrendous obstacle courses of gigantic pot-holes, absence of road markings, disappearance of road signs and street name-boards, and inoperable traffic lights and equally non-functioning street lighting. In a great number of those cities and towns, refuse removal has become increasingly infrequent, jeopardising health and despoiling the appearance of the urban areas.

NEDPP proposes to address these critical issues by diverse stratagems. In some instances it envisages privatisation (wholly or partially) of parastatals, both in order to access capital and foreign exchange, and in order to achieve technological advances and synergistic benefits from entry into what is euphemistically described as “strategic partnerships”.

The declared intents have generally been received by the private sector as positive, but nevertheless with some considerable scepticism, for government’s track record of progressing privatisation is not impressive. Although privatisation has been an element of the last five economic development or recovery programmes, there has been only one time when its was progressed with any conviction, when government very successfully privatised Dairibord, Rainbow Tourism Group, Zimbabwe Reinsurance Company and Cottco, among a few other parastatals.

Few governments in the world have ever run commercial enterprises with any great and continuing success, whilst most privatisations in Europe, USA, South Africa and elsewhere have been very successful. Zimbabwe now needs to replace words with deeds, with prioritisation of privatisation being targeted at Zesa, the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe, Cold Storage Company, Grain Marketing Board, Tel*One, Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) and Zimpost.

Government will be released of innumerable millstones, whilst the country will benefit from the motivation of investors to ensure investment viability through maximised productivity and efficiency, customer-care, sound management, technological upgrades and much else.

NEDPP also envisages resorting to Build, Operate and Transfer (Bot), and Build, Operate, Own and Transfer (Boot) projects to ensure development of the infrastructure. This is to be commended, provided that the intents become realities, for such projects can provide both funding and the technologies not available to the impoverished Zimbabwean government and its many near-insolvent parastatals.

Arising out of previous economic programmes, government established the Privatisation Agency of Zimbabwe (now defunct) which did a lot of constructive work, only to witness its masters disregarding all that was done.

This time Zimbabwe must be prepared to follow through on declared intentions, failing which the infrastructural decline will continue, and will be a major contributant to total economic collapse.

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