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Editor’s Memo

More fuel, fewer Bills

I HAD a good laugh on Saturday reading about the latest efforts by the hopeless Ministry of Energy to ensure there are adequate fuel supplies. The solution, according to the

ministry’s permanent secretary Justin Mupamhanga, lies in legislation.

Government will come up with a Petroleum Bill – not petroleum bills – to regulate the fuel industry and ensure that there is order in procurement and that all players behave properly.

There is a Shona idiom that says: kutsvaka kweashaya kutsvaka uta mugate. Translated loosely, it means: the hopeless desperation of one who looks for a bow in a gourd. That is how desperate our rulers are. They are now looking for fuel in parliament.

On the day the Petroleum Bill becomes law, we should all perhaps go and queue at Parliament building for a helping of the precious liquid. This sounds ridiculous but is there any sense investing hundreds of man-hours in drawing up legislation that will regulate a substance that is not there?

The Bible in the book of Hebrews says faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Mupamhanga and his boss, Rt Lt General Mike Nyambuya, have stretched their faith to near breaking point. It is no longer an issue of something hoped for but not seen. They are going to regulate something that is not there!

Legislation, my good general, is no substitute for foreign currency at the moment. That is what the nation needs. We have seen at least half-a-dozen measures by government to regulate the industry in the past four years and none of them has worked.

Putting new laws in statute books is not the answer. The tragedy of our government is that laws have been made on the hoof to deal with the desperate economic situation. There are anti-hoarding laws, anti-black market measures and it is now illegal for landlords to hike rents to market levels.

This creates an impression that the desperate situation we are in is permanent and therefore requires equally desperate legislation. The government can promulgate as many laws as it deems fit but it cannot legislate against inflation, neither can it legislate against general shortages and bankruptcy.

But one thing the government can do though is to create the right environment for the economy to flourish. The preoccupation with erecting barriers and controls in all facets of life is symptomatic of a government that is clutching at straws to salvage a plot that is almost irretrievably lost.

The Zimbabwean story is a sad one. Here is a country whose leader has laid claim to fame and to having many friends across the face of the earth (except in European capitals and the United States). But the friends are not there during times of need. In other words, they either do not care about little Zimbabwe or they do not have the capacity to assist.

Which reminds me of President Mugabe’s forays to secure fuel deals for Zimbabwe over the past five years. The list of those the president said could help include Libya, Sudan, Iran, Kuwait and Equatorial Guinea. These “friendly nations”, like anyone in business, require Zimbabwe to pay in foreign currency for fuel – up front. The mantras we hear daily about friends and detractors are therefore rubbish. Where are our “friends” now? And who is feeding the country when we can’t? They are our true friends.

The president’s friends, I sometimes feel, are merely cheering our performance in the theatre of blundering. Did we not hear earlier this month Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa saying he supported Operation Murambatsvina? Another cheerleader and a diplomatic coup for Mugabe but where is the fuel? In the 15-vehicle presidential motorcade? Tanzania certainly hasn’t offered any.

That aside, this nation has to start a serious process of introspection in which government opens its eyes to the problems that abound. It is not about inadequate policing. The problem is an incompetent coterie of leaders apportioning themselves too many powers to parade their incompetence and embarrass themselves in public.

In his Tuesday message this week, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai tried to point the Zanu PF government to what it needs to do. He said: “The only way out of this situation is political. The Zanu PF-led regime must acknowledge its failure and start the process that will allow Zimbabwe to eventually take its place in the community of nations and put the economy on the road to recovery.”

Sounds easier said than done! The process which has to take place first is one of national cohesion and political settlement. This process also requires the opposition to play a part even if Mugabe appears uninterested in political discourse. The tactics should change from merely mobilising public opinion against Mugabe to encouraging greater civic participation in discussing and finding solutions to the Zimbabwean problem.

Because of the fixation with Mugabe, we do not have time to brainstorm about the future. Instead we are treated to silly moves like the Petroleum Bill – even when we are queuing for petrol.

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