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Business leaders lash out at govt

Godfrey Marawanyika

BUSINESS leaders this week bared their teeth and snarled at government’s economic policy confusion at a pre-budget conference held on Wednesday.

na, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>For the first time, business leaders stopped their double-speak and praise-singing to launch a scathing attack on government for destroying the economy. Zimbabwe’s business leaders are well known for singing praise to the government in public while attacking its policies in private. Some chief executives have complained to newspapers, especially the Independent, for quoting them criticising the government and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).

There is often a wave of fear among business leaders who ironically feel the heat of the economic problems as they battle to keep their companies afloat. But on Wednesday that prevarication was gone.

With rare but brutal frankness the business leaders took off their gloves and lambasted the government at a pre-budget seminar organised by the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF.)

Former president of Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Kumbirai Katsande said Zimbabweans were their own worst enemies. “As we sit right here I do not hear any senior government official condemning the farm invasions which are taking place across the country. Maybe only with the exception of Gideon Gono.

“It’s criminal when we do not do what we are supposed to do,” Katsande said.

The meeting was attended by Economic Development minister Rugare Gumbo, Finance minister Herbert Murerwa, two permanent secretaries, Andrew Bvumbe and George Mlilo, and other senior government officials.

Deputy Finance minister David Chapfika also attended the meeting.

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) president Luxon Zembe said real patriots should go beyond party politics.

He implored government to take decisive action on the visa requirements on Zimbabweans by the South African government.

“A government messenger does not need a visa to go to South Africa, but Joe Mtizwa, the chief executive officer of our very own conglomerate, would have to go and queue for a visa at the South African embassy,” Zembe said.

Zembe also questioned why government was afraid of liberalising the economy and restoring international relations. “Truly patriotic people are not Zanu PF or MDC but the question is whether Zanu PF people are patriotic as they claim to be?”

Concerns were also raised over the sorry state of the agriculture sector at a time when the RBZ had poured trillions of dollars into the sector. NECF chairman Robbie Mupawose said he was worried that government had failed to announce producer prices early.

“We are now in November and the central bank governor has put in trillions of dollars to finance the agriculture sector but we are still to see the deliverables,” Mupawose said.

“Command agriculture does not solve our problems. Command systems do not solve anything. We are in serious problems. I don’t know why we hide from some of these basic facts.”

Under siege from the executives Murerwa could only say he “had tried to identify some of the critical challenges that require attention through the national budget”.

“More importantly, the economy needs right policy prescriptions that promote sustainable growth, that is brought about by increased investment, exports, value addition, public-private partnership and increased employment opportunities and overall productivity of all economic sectors,” Murerwa said.

“Price distortions are currently constraining the budget as well as adversely affecting the operations of most public enterprises. It will be necessary that we remove all price distortions and target subsidies to vulnerable groups.”

Gumbo however maintained government’s defensive stance, reminding the delegates that the country was under sanctions.

“We are under siege of targeted sanctions,” said Gumbo, parroting the self-serving government line.

“Let’s not be simplistic about these things and move beyond these text book materials. We are operating under extremely difficult conditions.”

But Mupawose was not intimidated.

“I often question what we are doing about these sanctions,” he said. “Surely, sanctions can be circumvented. We are suffering from the consequences of our own actions,” he said. Despite the tense atmosphere, the meeting also had its lighter moments.

Black empowerment activist Keith Guzah said it was necessary for business leaders to be enrolled for National Youth Service programmes.

“Maybe we need a Border Gezi adult literacy programme because of lack of patriotism amongst some of our business leaders,” he said.

Former Finance minister Simba Makoni advised both government and the business leaders to have clarity of policies.

“Even if Zimbabwe is looking east, whilst east is looking west, there is need for clarity in our policies,” Makoni said.

“Today we are for individual enterprise, and tomorrow we are for collective enterprise. We all know what has to be addressed.”

The budget will be presented on December 1.

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