Eric Bloch Column

Government’s never-ending profligacy

Eric Bloch

IT is not credibly disputable that the near collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, and the consequential widespread poverty and hardship, is almost wholly attributable t

o government, albeit that the political hierarchy do not only dispute it, but endlessly and spuriously try to attribute blame entirely upon others.


According to the bevy of government spokesmen, the abysmal state of the economy is almost wholly due to the evil Machiavellian machinations of the European Union, the British Prime Minister, the USA, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), former white commercial farmers, profiteering industrialists and shopkeepers, the opposition political party, the independent press, and other alleged economic saboteurs.


There is no surprise that government continuously seeks to ascribe responsibility for the economic morass to all these supposedly anti-Zimbabwe, and undoubtedly anti-government, entities and individuals, for only thereby does it believe that it can divert recognition that, in reality, government is the principal culprit. And that is the reality! It is government that reduced the fertile and virile agricultural sector, which was the country’s economic foundation, to near total destruction (despite annual predictions of an imminent turnaround).


It is government that has alienated international support and foreign direct investment by its unequivocal contempt for justice, law and order, human rights, and democracy, its failure to create an investment-conducive environment (but instead making recurrent threats of investment expropriation), and by its specious claims that international sanctions are “illegal”, which they are not.


There is an obvious reluctance to lend money to a country that will not conform to internationally acceptable standards and has an immense record of debt default.


It is also government that has fuelled the demise of the economy by its rigid pursuit of the precepts of a command economy, afflicting commerce and industry, and all other economic sectors, with endless, highly destructive, grossly excessive regulation. Further contributing to the economy’s ruination is government’s endless failure to contain corruption, and to do anything to bring inflation under control.


Although the causes of Zimbabwean hyperinflation are many, one of the foremost is the gargantuan extent of endless governmental spending in excess of its means. Not only does its massive year-on-year deficits further deter investment and international support, and thereby compound the insufficiencies of foreign exchange, resulting in inflation causing scarcities, virile black market activity, and productivity inadequacies, but they also result in reliance upon the printing of excessive, unsupported money, fuelling inflation. Year after year government talks of containing and controlling its spending, but clearly does so with tongue-in-cheek, for each year its profligacy, its reckless spending and wastefulness gives the lie to its declarations of fiscal prudency intents.


Relative recent examples of government’s continuing “spendaholic” tendencies include the following.


The creation, a few years ago of the senate. Whilst it can be argued that having an Upper House within the parliamentary system can enhance democracy and good governance, that argument is devoid of substance when the real effect is naught but the creation of more “jobs for the boys”, a rubber stamp for any and all legislation passed by parliament and a cost far beyond the country’s means.


Clearly, however the creation of the senate did not create enough “Jobs for the boys”, for now the president contemplates constitutional amendments to increase the number of parliamentary seats from the present 120 (which equates to approximately one Member of Parliament for every 95 000 resident Zimbabweans). The supposed justification for the intended enlarged parliament is population increase, but the 2002 National Census evidenced population decrease, and that decrease has undoubtedly continued as a consequence of the massive numbers that have departed Zimbabwe for greener pastures, and as a result of deaths due to Aids, malnutrition and under-nourishment, and inadequate healthcare services.


Zimbabwe cannot afford to increase the number of parliamentarians, but evidently that is of no concern to government, irrespective of the negative economic consequences.


In the light of the creation of the Senate, and presumably now also the intended greater numbers of parliamentarians, government is planning upon a grandiose, costly new parliament building. Whilst the present one is old and small, nevertheless it copes and could continue to serve Zimbabwe for years yet to come, but that does not deter government from its intended splurge upon a prestigious, costly and unaffordable edifice.


With a resident population of only about 11 million, Zimbabwe has 58 ministers, deputy ministers and resident ministers. That exceeds the numbers in the cabinets of most first-world countries, with far larger populations, and represents an immense cost for Zimbabwe, bearing in mind the infrastructure of permanent secretaries or like officials, and the myriad of other personnel and facilities comprising each ministry.


However, it must be assumed that the creation and continuance of all these posts helps to preserve a support-base in the politburo, central committee and other components of the ruling party, and especially so when regard is had to the recurrent provision of luxury motor vehicles, other prerequisites of office, and extensive international travel, to each of the ministerial incumbents and the upper echelons of their ministries, all at the cost of a financially bankrupt government, and involving usage of critically scarce foreign exchange.


Having only a little more than a year ago purchased six aircraft from China, government is now planning to acquire yet another six. Doing so is not incompatible with the immense expenditures upon defence as a whole, representing the largest vote in each year’s budget, but it is incompatible with the nation’s resources, and incomprehensible for a country at peace with all its neighbours, its only war being an economic one.


It is also untenable that such expenditure should be incurred when there is a critical, unfulfilled need for health and education (for example, Zimbabwe apparently does not even have one operational radiation machine for cancer patients, and hospitals are unable to feed patients adequately, whilst schools have immense inadequacies of textbooks and educational equipment. government obviously has a strange sense of priorities!). Defence costs, of a unnecessary nature, targeted only at preserving support of the armed forces, and at prestige and image, intensively exacerbate the State’s deficits, and thereby worsen the economy.


In like vein, and driven by a deep-seated sense of insecurity, government has spent money that it cannot afford, in order to deprive the populace of privacy, by sophisticated monitoring of telecommunications in general, inclusive of electronic mail transmissions. The “Big Brother is Watching” of Animal Farm repute is intensifying, consistent with government’s disregard for human rights, undoubtedly driven by its intense paranoia, and yet again a severe cost to the very beleagued economy.


These are but a few of the innumerable instances of government’s never-ending, reckless spending, irrespective of the dismal economic consequences, and the resultant intensification of hardships for most Zimbabweans.


Presumably, the 2007 Budget Statement, due to be presented to parliament in about six weeks time, will once again give assurances of spending constraint but, on the strength of the track record, very few — if any — will receive such assurances with any sense of relief.