HomeOpinionGovt spurns partnership with business

Govt spurns partnership with business

Vincent Kahiya
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“WE are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire.”


The National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) had this unacknowledged 1902 quote by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin emblazoned on the cover of its programme for what was billed as a crucial meeting last week.


The NECF omitted the other part of Lenin’s quote, which at the time was meant to light the fires of a revolution beneath the ruling autocracy.


“We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the nearby marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation.”


But the struggle by the NECF’s Young Turks for economic growth in Zimbabwe appeared to have suffered a major setback last week due to a duck-out by their patron.


He failed to turn up for the think tank’s meeting on the economy, preferring to hand out computers at a Kadoma school.


Last weekend the Office of the President reacted angrily to our story that President Mugabe had bunked the NECF meeting. Not only did the government spokesman deny that Mugabe had convened the meeting in the first place but berated the organisers saying the meeting was “of doubtful import and objectives”.


The NECF is Zimbabwe’s smart partnership showcase. Mugabe’s role in convening the meeting was contained in letters sent out by its executive secretary, Nicholas Kitikiti.


“It is mischievous for the (Independent) to report, or anyone to suggest, that the president was invited, indicated attendance, or, what is worse, that he could have missed the meeting he summoned,” Mugabe’s officials said.


“The office certainly takes great exception to anyone taking the schedule of the Head of State for granted or trying to use the name of the president to mobilise attendance to hastily organised meetings of doubtful import and objectives,” they said in a pompous statement run by the state media last Saturday.The statement said government would “move on with the imple-mentation of its economic recovery plan, drawing input from players who are genuine, well-meaning and patriotic” — ie other than the NECF!


While the statement claimed the meeting was of little importance, senior government officials including Special Affairs minister John Nkomo, Information minister Jonathan Moyo, Environment and Tourism minister Francis Nhema and Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa attended the forum.


Observers said the statement from the Office of the President sounded the death knell to the much-acclaimed smart partnership concept, which is based on the Malaysian-inspired Langkawi Smart Partnership Dialogue.


Smart partnership is based on a deliberate policy of co-operation between government, the private sector, labour, and civil society aimed at transforming a country into a winning nation.


“Smart” is an acronym for objectives which when pursued are “Sustainable, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely”.


The genesis of smart partnership dialogue dates back to 1995, when Commonwealth Heads of Government formally established the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management (CPTM) as a non-profit company based in London, limited by guarantee and without shareholding.


Malaysia popularised the concept. Since then, the concept has been embraced by Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, among others.


Since its formation in Zimbabwe at the behest of government in 1997, the NECF has been portrayed as a key-brainstorming platform that would come up with ideas to solve the country’s current problems.


“The creation of the NECF was based on the assumption that no particular one sector or group of individuals has a monopoly of skills or competences to grow and develop the economy,” the NECF says in its brochure.


That co-operation between the social partners should “engender a spirit of co-operative governance and create smart partnership as a means of enhancing national consensus and coalition-building in order to promote the socio-economic development process…”


But the perceived firm hold of a “compact group” has over the years loosened and is crumbling in the wake of government’s determination to work outside the spirit of the much-fêted smart partnership.


The government, which has of late developed a penchant of forming ministerial taskforces to run all key facets of the economy, appears to have dropped the tenets of the National Economic Revival Programme (Nerp) agreed under the rubric of smart partnership in February.


Under Nerp Mugabe promised to deal with the hyperinflationary environment. He said government would introduce programmes to boost production in the agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism,transport, energy, and science and technology sectors. He said government, through the Reserve Bank, would avail $50 billion to exporters and producers on a revolving basis while the financial and banking communities were expected to mobilise an additional $50 billion.


As an additional measure government, in conjunction with its social partners, launched the National Productivity Centre atthe Scientific Industrial Research and Development Centre to promote research. The president said government was resuscitating the Business Linkages Programme in partnership with interested business organisations to address de-industrialisation in the country.


 Other measures included the introduction of seasonal contract farming for agro-processors and seed houses in conjunction with farmers. In tourism, Mugabe said government would promote the development of the sector through the introduction of urban-centre duty-free shopping malls, agro and eco-tourism, and tourism development zones which enjoy similar incentives as Export Processing Zones enter-prises


In March the International Monetary Fund praised Nerp, saying: “If it is pursued with increasing vigour, inflation will eventually be brought under control”. At the time inflation was 269,2% but it has since gone up to 455,5% and is still heading north. At the NECF meeting last week Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries chief Anthony Mandiwanza gave the reason for the continued deterioration of the economy. He 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 for the nation to go forward.


Shingi Munyeza, CEO of Zimsun, said it was important to tell the truth.


“Let’s start telling the truth. By not telling the truth we are digging our own grave. If there is no foreign currency then there is none,” said Munyeza.


The NECF has a dozen taskforces dealing with areas such as media and publicity, spatial development initiatives, gender, anti-corruption and indigenisation. There are also taskforces for human resources, information technology, agrarian reform environment, industrialisation, youth, and tourism.


Observers have said the work of the taskforces is not clear as they have not achieved much over the past years. Their work has been superseded by ministerial taskforces which have virtually replaced portfolio ministries. Mugabe is determined to carry on with his economic programmes driven by these taskforces rather than pursuing a consensus.


The Zimbabwean government, which is bereft of plausible solutions to deal with the current problems, is busy pulling out of the smart partnership as suggestions made by the group challenge its commandist mantras.


Under the prevailing economic turmoil, the NECF — despite its good intentions — is slowly becoming irrelevant to Mugabe’s scheme of things.  The quest to use the NECF to tap into the critical mass of expertise that exists has now been subverted by the anti-reformists fringe in Zanu PF which has remained in the trenches fighting an invisible enemy.

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