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Eric Bloch Column

Dire effects of collapsing infrastructure

By Eric Bloch

WITH parliamentary elections only six months away, government is vigorously trying to convince the populace that not only has the continuing decline of the economy over the last seven year

s been halted, but also that the economy is firmly upon a path of recovery and growth.

In speech after speech the president and his ministers contend that government has in no manner been responsible for the distressed state to which the economy has been reduced. And such denials have not only been the characteristic of almostevery speech of the Zimbabwean political hierarchy, but they have also been the central theme of editorials and articles in the state-controlled press, and in news bulletins and other programmes on the state-owned radio and television services.

The realities are diametrically opposite to the government’s contentions. Whilst it cannot be denied that the last nine months witnessed some remarkable economic achievements by the governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, the effect of those achievements is confined to slowing down the economic decline, as distinct from actually reversing it. Gono deserves loud applause for that which he has achieved in a short period of time.

Foremost of his attainments has been the lowering of the year-on-year rate of inflation from 622,8% in January, 2004 to 362,9% only six months later. He has also restored an aspect of order, prudency and good governance to the financial sector,has significantly increased inflows of foreign exchange — albeit that there is still a pronounced insufficiency, has partially restored Zimbabwe’s relationships with the International Monetary Fund and other major international bodies and with the diplomatic corps and those it represents, and much else.

But all of that cannot re-establish and develop the economy. Monetary policies are but one of the essential ingredients required.

Equally essential are constructive and responsible fiscal policies, just and positive political actions, and to a large extent those ingredients are very sadly lacking.

It must be acknowledged that the past few months have evidenced, under the control of the acting Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Herbert Murerwa, some more effective and long-overdue fiscal policies, but much more are needed if the monetary policies of Gono are to be complemented and rendered fully constructive. And, very regrettably, there have been absolutely no endeavours on the part of government to undergo the desperately needed transformations of its political actions.

In such circumstances, it is impossible for the economic recovery (which is so greatly hungered for by the Zimbabwean populous) to materialise, and it is inevitable that the economy will continue to decline, although the pace of the decline has diminished to a significant degree, in response to the monetary and fiscal policy changes over the last nine months.

Amongst the innumerable factors which cause the continuing debilitation of the economy is the very sorry state of much of Zimbabwe’s infrastructural resource. No economy can be transformed from a state of great frailty to one of virility and strength if the requisite supportive infrastructure is not in place, and it is incontrovertibly not in place in Zimbabwe.

Thecatastrophically negative condition of most of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is such that it is not only that the economy cannot recover, but that the economic circumstances must continue to worsen.
Accountability for such disastrous conditions lies fairly and squarely at the feet of government, and at those of the directors and managements of many parastatals. Theinfrastructural environment is generally so poor that even the very diminished levels of economic activity cannot have their essential needs fully serviced.

The first of many key areas of infrastructural inadequacy is that of power generation. The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority lacks the electricity generating capacity required to service the economy fully, and that adverse situation is exacerbated by its failure to maintain and operate fully such capacity as it does have. In part that is due to financial constraints, in part to the scarcity of foreign exchange, and in part to a loss of much of the technical and managerial skills required for efficient operations.

Load-shedding is a very frequent occurrence, exceeded only by supply breakdowns. Vast areas of Zimbabwe’s towns and cities are deprived of lighting, or have grossly inadequate lighting providing safe haven to the thousands of criminals who exploit the obscurity provided by shadows and darkness. And industrial, mining and agricultural production is seriously constrained by instabilities and uncertainties of power supplies.

Of major concern is also that in less than three years from the present, neighbouring states who provide Zimbabwe with a substantial portion of its electricity requirements will be forced to discontinue those supplies, as their domestic needs increase and absorb their present energy export capacity.

Zimbabwean telecommunications are becoming a massive disaster, and yet telecommunications are of critical importance to efficient economic activity.

During normal business hours it is increasingly impossible to make subscriber trunk dialling calls from Bulawayo to other centres in Zimbabwe, let alone to destinations further afield. Invariably, after having dialled only half of the digits of a desired telephone number, thecaller is the recipient of an engaged signal, and that can occur on each and every attempt to make the call over several hours.

The only telecommunication growth area in Zimbabwe is in the scales of TelOne charges, which rise in draconian increases at regular levels, the increases or charges being equalled by the extent of the decline in service delivery.

The collapsing telecommunications resource is not confined to Zimbabwe’s landline system. It is as catastrophic with the mobile telephone facilities. On the one hand the most frequent result of any attempted call on the 091 network is message “Network Busy”, and when the caller ultimately succeeds in penetrating that barrier, he can anticipate that, with a highdegree of probability, his call will be summarily terminated within three minutes, requiring repeated attempts to reconnect.

(It could be argued, however that is economically beneficial, for it enables the service provider to make several charges, as a minimum charge is attributable to each call.)

And the cataclysmic state of Zimbabwean telecommunications, also impacts negatively upon service provider for e-mail systems. The cost of lost transactions and of other economic opportunities, due to the disastrous telecommunications is unquantifiable, but must amount to trillions.

The sad litany of near useless infrastructure is not, however, confined to electricity supply and telecommunications. Also subject to inclusion in such a litany are Zimbabwean rail services. Locomotives, rolling stock, lines of rail and signal systems are in critical need of maintenance andrepair, refurbishment and upgrade, but are not sufficiently in receipt of those needs. The result is the inability of National Railways of Zimbabwe to provide reliable services for the carriage of coal from Hwange, and of goods for commerce and industry.

Other parastals within the transport sector are similarly unable toservice Zimbabwe’s needs. In particular, although Air Zimbabwe must have amongst the world’s best insofar as cockpit and cabin crew, and ground check-in personnel are concerned, it has a grossly inadequate fleet of aircraft.

The lack of suitable and sufficient aircraft prevents Air Zimbabwe from servicing Kariba and Hwange National Park, and from providing air freight access to major potential regional export markets such asAngola. Moreover, whensoever aircraft are commandeered by the President for regional or international travel, and whenever an aircraft is inoperable for technical reasons, immense disruption of schedules result, with very adverse repercussions upon the business and tourism communities.

Vast portions of the city of Harare have been without water for many months, to the prejudice of community health and of industrial operations.

Traffic flows are appalling because of the pot-holes and generally poor state of the city’s roads, and many of Zimbabwe’s local authorities are unable to provide the extent of sewerage and refuse collection services necessary. Much ofZimbabwe’s health services are nearing the point of collapse, and the same is increasingly applicable to the country’s secondary and tertiary education infrastructure.

Unless and until government dynamically addresses the restoration and expansion of the Zimbabwean infrastructures, reinforced by like action by the private sector in areas such as the non-governmental telecommunications, those infrastructures will continue be a source of economic decline.

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