PRESIDENT Mugabe this week snubbed the country’s key economic think-tank in what is seen as a gesture of defiance towards the business community. It also signals, analysts
say, a resolve to press ahead with his own agenda on tackling the country’s chronic problems.
Having summoned a meeting of the National Economic Consultative Forum for Wednesday to address the country’s deepening economic crisis, Mugabe stayed away from the body charged with implementing smart-partnership decisions between government, business, labour and civil society and instead attended a ceremony at a Kadoma school where computers were handed out.
Last week he attended two full days of politburo and central committee meetings on the economy.
Other key members of the government also stayed away from the NECF meeting leaving Special Affairs minister John Nkomo to deliver Mugabe’s address.
Executive secretary for the NECF, Nicholas Kitikiti, said he was not disturbed by the absence of the president and ministers.
“I am not so much disappointed that some key government officials and the president did not attend because the issue is about interaction, not faces,” he said.
“The issue is about availability of foreign currency. What can (absent Lands and Agriculture minister Joseph) Made do about that?
“It is about access to bank loans, boosting savings and winning back the support of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank,” said Kitikiti.
Mugabe last Friday in a speech to Zanu PF’s central committee blamed Britain, the European Union, and the United States for the current economic crisis. He said “a mercenary breed of wily and selfish merchants” were responsible for the burgeoning black market.
It is thought Mugabe wants to target the business community while ignoring the government’s failure to manage macro-economic fundamentals. He has promised wide-ranging institutional reforms.
Business leaders who attended the meeting said government was not serious about finding a solution to the foreign currency problems.
“For a start, the president has already appointed a ministerial taskforce to deal with that issue,” said a business executive. “Secondly, the position of business with regards to solving the foreign currency situation has not changed since our last meeting. We need devaluation. It is a waste of time to continue tabling measures that will not be implemented. Government at the beginning of the year promised to devalue periodically to cushion exporters.”
Confederation of Zimbabwe In-dustries president Anthony Mandiwanza said government had failed to implement what was agreed under the National Economic Revival Programme in February.
“Close to 95% of what was agreed in February has not been implemented,” he said.
He said there was need for political commitment to go forward.
Economic commentator Eric Bloch said the NECF was a window-dressing outfit for government to create an impression that they have consulted with business before implementing policies.
“I am very sceptical that anything will come out of the meeting,” said Bloch yesterday after the second day of discussions. “The track record has been that government only implements those recommendations that synchronise with what they want.”
In addition to Nkomo, those in attendance included Finance minister Herbert Murerwa and Environment and Tourism minister Francis Nhema.
But most other ministers stayed away.
Nkomo, the most senior government official present, said government should mend fences with international donors but in the same breath repeated the ruling party’s tired mantra about sovereignty being supreme.
“Let me now address the import-ant question of Zimbabwe’s rela-tions with the international com-munity, in particular the white do-nor world and international organisations which they dominate,” he said.
“Zimbabwe’s sovereignty is not for bargaining, but we are ready to engage in mutually beneficial relations with the outside world in the capacity of a free and sovereign nation, governed by its laws and national constitution,” he said.
Business analysts said he didn’t appear to understand that Zimbabwe had few options left. Senior diplomats pointed out this week that there was no question of the international community relenting on balance-of-payments support – which the country urgently needs – until the issue of governance had been addressed.
Zimbabwe Council for Tourism president Shingi Munyeza said honest analysis of what was ailing the economy was necessary before solutions could be arrived at.
“Let’s start telling the truth,” he said. “By not telling the truth we are digging our own grave.”