Eric Bloch Column – 29 Feb

ALTHOUGH inevitably Zanu PF would vehemently deny it, it is becoming more and more apparent that the party’s 2008 election campaign has been devised and structured to ensure the party’s defeat.

Zanu PF plans to lose elections

The rationale for such an incongruous objective defies comprehension, but it is near impossible to assume any other intent from government’s current policies and actions.

It is commendable that, albeit belatedly, government has enabled and empowered the Central Statistical Office (CSO) to resume timeous release of Consumer Price Index (CPI) and related inflation data, after a four month hiatus of near total CSO silence.

It is also commendable that the CSO is releasing data which confirms the intense hyperinflation that prevails, instead of deviously attempting to conceal that reality.

Undoubtedly government has finally, and very tardily, realised that any attempted misrepresentation would be an exercise in the fruitless, for the populace is fully aware of the inflation actualities.

In fact, the populace knows that real inflation is even greater than stated by the CSO, because most essential commodities are not available in the official markets accessed by CSO, but must be obtained at considerably higher prices from black market sources.

However, the commendability of the data release, free of blatant, deliberate distortion, is markedly outweighed by government’s total failure to do anything to contain the devastating inflation, or to alleviate the intense, ever-increasing, hardships afflicting almost all in Zimbabwe (other than the Zanu PF hierarchy).

Ever since inflation commenced its surging upwards spiral, government has done naught but speciously blame others, save and except for ill-conceived, misguided actions to worsen the circumstance (such as price controls, creation of the National Incomes and Pricing Commission, castigation unjustly of the business community, and so forth), although the motivation of such actions could well be construed as part of Zanu PF’s death wish.

No matter how greatly, or how frequently, government may attribute the hyperinflation to the greed of the business world, or to conspiracy between the government’s perceived international enemies and the captains of commerce and industry, the incontrovertible fact is that each and every cause of Zimbabwean hyperinflation has been the creation of government.

As tragic and contemptible as that is, what is even more tragic and contemptible is that government compounds the catastrophes that it has created by continued recourse to the very same actions that have fuelled the world’s worst inflation, and to yet further such actions.

The CSO determined that year-on-year inflation to December, 2007 was 66 212,3%, increasing to 100 580,2% in January 2008.

As horrific as those figures are, comparable to the greatest ever recorded inflation, in Germany in the days of the Weimar Republic (1923), actual Zimbabwean inflation was even greater than the CSO has stated, with authoritative estimates placing it at between 130 000 and 140 000% in January 2008.

If the Weimar Republic-like trend continues, Zimbabwe will exceed the near trillion percent inflation that Germany sustained in the period from 1922 to 1924. And the blame for this disastrous plague upon the Zimbabwean people lies fairly and squarely with government.

It is the Zimbabwean government that has:

*Destroyed agricultural production, with a land policy which has caused nothing but decimation of that which was the economy’s foundation, the region’s bread-basket, the greatest provider of employment, a major foreign currency generator, and much else;

*Maintained a spurious exchange rate wholly unrelated to the need for exporter viability, thereby causing massive shrinkage in mining production, horrendous contraction in industrial output, and stultification of the tourism sector;

*Alienated the international community to an extent that criticlly-needed balance of payments support and developmental aid is not forthcoming;

*Alienated international investment by pursuit of a command economy, characterised by draconian regulation and legislation;

*Fuelled grossly excessive money supply by never-ending recourse to unaffordable spending, exacerbated by destroying the independence of the central bank, and forcing it to engage continuously in vastly costly quasi-fiscal operations, generally politically-driven, and economically unsuccessful.

Government’s spending of that which it does not have has become so pronounced that it spends no time governing, and all its time spending. The latest example of this endemic profligacy is the provision of trillions of dollars of “loans” to the country’s military.

This was a blatant act of vote-buying, notwithstanding government’s recurrent contentions that the forthcoming elections will be wholly free and fair.

There is as great a prospect of such elections as there is that President Mugabe could become prime minister of Great Britain, or the pope!
All these, and many other actions of government of a calamitous nature, coupled by governmental inaction when actions were necessary, have occasioned the gargantuan inflation that afflicts Zimbabwe.

So great is that affliction that hundreds of thousands are homeless, millions are unemployed, malnutrition and associated ill-health is the order of the day for very many, and an overwhelming majority of the populace are subject to endless misery, and extreme, life-endangering hardships.

And this circumstance has not only endured for almost a decade, but at a continuously intensifying pace, to such an extent that for most of the afflicted there is not even the compensation of the faintest glimmer of hope of change.

As if government’s culpability for the near destruction of Zimbabwe and its people does not suffice to satisfy its machiavellian disregard for the need to assure wellbeing for all Zimbabweans, government torturously continues to turn on the screw of suffering, poverty and consequential agony. Amongst its many tools of affliction is taxation.

Not only does it apply rates of taxation which are the highest on the continent of Africa, and which contest for the unenviable status of being amongst the world’s highest, but it applies those rates not only to those few with substantial incomes, but also to those who live on the precipice of destitution.

Although the Minister of Finance, Samuel Mumbengegwi, last November in his 2008 budget, adjusted the tax thresholds and bands for individuals, effective from lst January, 2008, his concessions were reduced to levels below the insignificant by that date, as a result of the ongoing inflation.

By February, the tax threshold is less than a sixth of the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) for a family of six.

Thus, a person earning only one-sixth of that which is necessary to sustain himself and his family on the border-line of poverty, becomes subject to onerous income tax, over and above diverse indirect taxes, such as VAT.

Only a government that is contemptuous of voters, or which is actually planning to lose elections, would resort to such unjust, back-breaking, taxation.

Perhaps government has realised that even the must pronounced pressures upon an electorate to support it are victims to the ultimate extreme pressure of endangered survival, and it is therefore pushing for the electorate to find the courage to vote against it.

What is, however, confusing, is reconciling these acts of apparent determination to lose the elections with the concurrent disguised rigging of those elections by the abusive usage of the state-controlled media to promote the ruling party and to defame its opponents, the indirect vote-buying of the votes of the military, teachers, and other civil servants, and many like actions.

By Eric Bloch