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Editor’s Memo

Incompetence rewarded

By Vincent Kahiya

IT’S a fight to be deemed right. That now appears to be the guiding light of Zimbabwe’s aristocracy grappling with the crises that have rocked virtually e

very facet of this sinking economy.

It is this quest for vanity that has led to the current spat between Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe officials and those from the Ministry of Agriculture. Revelations that the country could have imported contaminated or sub-standard fertiliser appeared to draw fire from RBZ governor Gideon Gono who was fingered in press reports as having had a hand in the importation.

A defensive Gono last Saturday called a press conference at which he sought to not only portray himself as pure as the driven snow, but also strenuously plotted to situate the blame on Agriculture permanent secretary Simon Pazvakavambwa and technocrats in the ministry.

By virtually skinning Pazvakavambwa, Gono emerged from the meeting thinking he was a conscientious and diligent worker whose effort to avert a crisis was being sabotaged by careless officials.

Flanked by senior government officials, Gono produced a 143-page document to prove his innocence in the importation of about 800 tonnes of bad fertiliser. Hero and villain having been identified in the plot, Agriculture minister Joseph Made was happy to take the role of supporting actor in the agricultural tragedy opening soon at a farm near you. But his role in the fiasco should be greater than that. His real place is in the director’s chair.

His fingerprints are found all over Zimbabwe’s failed agricultural aspirations in which he has not only come up with ridiculous projections on grain production but has been found wanting when it comes to planning.

The issue of fertiliser shortages which has prompted the rushed importation of the commodity has haunted the country in successive years without respite. This is despite the fact that Made and the Reserve Bank know where the problem lies. It lies in fertiliser companies not being availed enough foreign currency to buy spare parts and import raw materials.

Gono’s dossier shows that meetings to deal with the issue were held as far back as December last year but the country is still short of the fertiliser. At a meeting held on December 14 Industry and Trade deputy minister Phineas Chihota implored the RBZ to recognise the importance of agriculture by giving the sector preference in the allocation of foreign currency.

The minutes state that Chihota said the “RBZ should be clear of what is required by industry and must work with others, not in isolation”. Remember Project Sunrise!

At a subsequent meeting he proposed the formation of a committee to manage the disbursement of foreign currency “because the RBZ was not qualified at all to do the disbursements or manage the foreign currency properly”. Reserve Bank officials took exception to this, saying the minister was not fully aware of the challenges the country was facing.

Just a glimpse of our government at work. The deputy minister lays into the RBZ for alleged incompetence in handling forex. The bank in turn accuses the minister of ignorance! Where does this leave Made?

But the RBZ, which is fully aware of the challenges the country is facing, spent millions of dollars in foreign currency importing vehicles to execute Project Sunrise three months ago. That was a more pressing issue than importing fertiliser?

No amount of blame-shifting can mask the fact that the central bank and government have failed to come up with a judicious plan to ensure that agriculture — which everyone recognises as being key to economic recovery — recovers. The fertiliser saga is an apt reference to the fact that agriculture will not recover through piecemeal RBZ interventions and public posturing but by ensuring that there is a holistic plan that ensures that all support industries are functioning. At the moment, they are not.

The evidence of the failure of our poorly led agricultural project is evident in Gono’s document.

There are letters to Made from the central bank announcing a facility to import 120 000 tonnes of wheat and plans to build strategic maize reserves through imports.

The script from our director of the agro-tragedy has been heavily edited. We have however not forgotten the original plot of a bumper maize harvest of 2,4 million tonnes and 220 000 tonnes of wheat. How rewarding incompetence is!

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