Just what is government policy?

G>WHAT is the government’s policy on reengagement with the International Monetary Fund? The public have the right to know.

President Mugabe recently told a Kenyan newspaper that “we can do without the IMF”. He blamed the Washington institution for imposing “awful” terms on Zimbabwe and other developing countries.

Mugabe’s hostility to the IMF is nothing new. He has at least been consistent in his public opposition to any restoration of ties to the Bretton Woods twin. He is less trenchant about its sibling, the World Bank.

But Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono has made reengagement with international lenders, including the IMF, the centerpiece of his recovery programme for the financial sector. He referred to the importance of restoring ties to the IMF in his recent review of progress since his December statement.

Gono has been holding talks with the envoys of leading donors seeking their support for balance-of-payments assistance as a first step to wider multilateral aid. Mugabe conceded in his East African Standard interview the importance of balance-of-payments support. But he was adamant on other IMF prescriptions.

“I have no faith in them. We can do our own thing without the IMF and the rest,” he was reported as saying.

Is going it alone official policy?

It may be important to recall here that the IMF did not come to Zimbabwe uninvited in 1991. They were asked to assist in reviving a sclerotic economy that had become hidebound by dirigiste policies that discouraged investment and growth with concomitant implications for employment.

Whatever we might say about the unsuitability of the IMF’s “one size fits all” policies, their central prescription that government should stop spending money on itself remains as valid today as it was 13 years ago. Mugabe may like to pretend that the IMF was opposed to policies that helped the poor. But in fact it was critical of spending on a top-heavy bureaucracy and parastatals that provided little more than sheltered employment for the ruling-party faithful. That included a cosseted military apparatus.

The IMF’s advice that the government should live within its means and provide a more helpful business environment is one few outside Mugabe’s inner circle would disagree with.

But what we have seen over the years is a string of Finance ministers signing up to sound economic policies only to be thwarted by presidential sniping from the wings. Indeed, some have been denounced as saboteurs!

It is against this background  that Gono must now struggle to establish a national consensus. Those diplomats he has seen are adamant that there will be no assistance from the international community until there is agreement within Zimbabwe itself on economic policy. And that is unlikely to be forthcoming so long as the rule of law is subverted by the state.

The legal umbrella group, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, has pointed out that Roy Bennett, at the centre of an incident in parliament this week, has been granted six court orders preventing the state from interfering with his operations at Charleswood Estate in Chimanimani. ZLHR has called on the Minister of Justice to uphold those orders and to ensure the executive complies with its responsibility to ensure that citizens enjoy the right to the protection of the law, which right is provided for in our constitution and international instruments that the government has acceded to. It referred to “a culture of defiance of court orders” which undermined the judiciary and the justice delivery system entrenching a related culture of impunity and lawlessness.

The remarks in the official press by Joseph Chinotimba illustrate the lawlessness that has now become endemic in the country. Roy Bennett has every right to return to his farm whatever war veterans and other ruling-party activists with a history of intimidation may think.

The way in which the incident in parliament, the result of extreme provocation by Minister Chinamasa, has been used by the official media to work up hostility to Bennett in particular and whites in general, discloses a sinister agenda of populist persecution ahead of next year’s general election. Events in Mutare on Wednesday confirm this trend.

So long as the state persists in defying court orders and threatening its perceived opponents in vicious and inciteful terms there is unlikely to be a national consensus on anything. Certainly the reengagement of the international community will remain problematic so long as the president declines to support it. And without the involvement of the international community no programme of recovery will succeed.

Zimbabwe is rapidly becoming a Zanu PF island and its continued isolation remains the most damaging consequence of misrule. Gono has yet to succeed in getting that message across.