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Eric Bloch Column

Skewed economic programme for parliament

MOST of the address by President Robert Mugabe at the official opening of the first session of the 6th Parliament of Zimbabwe last week directly, or indirectly, related to Zimbabwe’s very distressed economy.

P>He spelt out the government’s programme for the current session of parliament, with a very pronounced emphasis upon economic issues, whilst concurrently he voiced comment upon some of the presently prevailing characteristics of the economy.

That he did so would be acknowledged by almost all as having been very necessary in view of the appallingly distressed condition of the economy. However, whilst some of government’s intended actions, and some of his comments, were very commendable, others displayed the extent to which government continues to disregard economic realities and necessities. All too many of the stated issues demonstrated, yet again, government’s obduracy and inability to recognise the need for policy changes, if a genuine economic turnaround is to be achieved.

Referring to the increasing frequency of drought conditions in Zimbabwe, the president said that “there is now an ever-growing need to seriously move away from the current over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture. Our collective and urgent focus should now be on effective efforts, aimed at exploiting our vast water reserves for irrigation.” He stated that to this end, an Irrigation Development Authority will therefore be established.

One must wonder why such an authority is necessary (over and above creating yet more “jobs for the boys”), when Zimbabwe already has a ministry, within the President’s office, of Water Resources and Infrastructural Development, and also has a Ministry of Agriculture. Why is a third body required to do that for which two others already exist? If those others are not doing that which they should do, then they must be restructured, instead of adding an unaffordable further entity to an already grossly monolithic infrastructure.

Moreover, all the water in the world will not achieve required agricultural production unless Zimbabwe sorts out the mess it has made of the agricultural sector. It has displaced thousands of farmers of proven capability, productivity and resources, with a multitude of intending farmers lacking in those resources and, in some instances, of those skills required to achieve productivity, whilst others do not even have the drive and initiative to achieve production. They only seek to enrich themselves by pillaging the crops, the equipment and the stores of those displaced.

Concurrently, government has repeatedly failed to ensure the timeous availability of promised agricultural inputs. And throughout, it has deluded itself, and the populace, with dubious and mythical projections of agriculture output, jeopardising effective and meaningful governmental economic planning and central bank management of foreign exchange.

This did not suffice to satisfy government’s misguided agricultural policies, for the president further stated that in order “to stimulate development of the horticultural sector” — the country’s third largest agricultural foreign currency earner after tobacco and cotton — a bill for the establishment of a Horticultural Production Authority will be put before parliament.

Is this yet another creation of “jobs for the boys”? Should not such stimulation of horticultural development have emanated, long ago and continuously, from the Ministry of Agriculture, acting cooperatively and cohesively with the Horticultural Promotion Council, the Commercial Farmers’ Union, the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union, and other like bodies? Instead, another authority is to be created, intensifying the already massive over-regulation of the economy, and placing still another burden upon a penniless fiscus!

On the other side of the coin, some satisfaction can be drawn from the president’s statement that, with regard to the land reform programme, “government is correcting residual irregularities thereof and addressing the issue of properties falling under Bilateral Investment Protection Agreements”.

The irregularities were many, including the injustices perpetrated upon the farmers who were unilaterally deprived of their possessions and their livelihoods, were harassed, attacked, humiliated and denuded of fundamental human rights. And, whilst there was no legitimate justification for the mass, continuing, expropriation of lawfully owned farms, a particularly pronounced “irregularity” was the seizure of farms supposedly protected under Bilateral Investment Protection Agreements. By taking such farms, government reneged on those agreements. Not only was doing so internationally untenable and in conflict with the fundamental principles of good governance, honesty and sound relations with the world at large, but breach of such agreements dissuades foreign direct investment, critically necessary for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.

Having announced the intended creation of two new, unaffordable and unnecessary governmental entities, the president proceeded to announce yet another, saying that “government will also establish an independent National Incomes and Pricing Commission to coordinate the harmonisation of incomes and pricing issues”. Despite the recurrent failures over most of the past 25 years to regulate prices, government remains determined to do so. Price controls and price regulation are assured stimuli of commodity shortages, black market operations, and inflation, as against the misguided governmental perceptions that they will contain inflation and cater for consumer interests.

The world over, the only effective ways of achieving containment of prices have been the stimulation of competition and the promotion and facilitation of enhanced productivity. Instead of creating yet another ineffectual or counterproductive “talk-shop”, government should be intensifying its efforts to achieve a sound social contract between it, the private sector and labour, via the Tripartite Negotiating Forum. Such contract can only endure, if other measures are implemented successfully to transform the economy, inclusive of reduction of the annualised rate of inflation to single-digit levels.

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