ZIMBABWEâ€™S economic policies have degenerated from the absurd to the ridiculous.
There are biting food shortages and in fact shortages of virtually everything. Resultantly food prices have shot up as is the norm in such circumstances. But in this country, our new-found economic policies grind against the grain of convention.
After announcing that inflation was 2,2 million%, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono believes that prices of goods should actually come down. Itâ€™s only in Zimbabwe where 100mls of toothpaste, six candles, 500 grammes of washing powder, sanitary pads, salt, 750 ml of cooking oil, 2kg packets of rice, flour and sugar, a kg of salt, 100ml of petroleum jelly and a 250g bar of soap cost $110 billion or US$4 at the interbank rate. This is the realistic price of a basket of groceries according to our rulers!
This is not a subsidy, it is bureaucratic derision premised on the self-fulfilling notion that things are getting better in this country.
In essence, how does a government subsidise goods using foreign currency when it does not have the money to do so? It prints money which is inflationary. That is the hallmark of the expansively named National Basic Commodities Supply Enhancement Programme which President Mugabe launched on Wednesday. Each household is expected to get a monthly hamper for $100 billion â€“â€“ for those who can afford it. There are repayment terms available for those incapable of raising the sum!
The Herald on Wednesday quoted Information permanent secretary George Charamba as saying this was a “sign of things to come as government moves to restore peopleâ€™s buying power”. What dross! People regain their buying power as they get richer and not through unsustainable populism whose benefits are often short-lived but whose impact on the economy is immense. We are going to look back one day at this act of folly and ask what our leaders had smoked when implementing this programme.
The new Baccossi scheme â€“â€“ like a whole raft of past populist projects, including Aspef and farm mechanisation â€“â€“ is designed to position the Zanu PF government as a benevolent institution that is now fulfilling promises made during the campaign period. There is no greater advertisement of its policy failure than this project however. The government will not tell us that it has through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe been importing soap, sugar, cooking oil and rice, which have been repackaged in local manufacturersâ€™ livery for distribution at the ridiculously low price.
The same RBZ which has been marshalling foreign currency for the cheap food project has in past worked feverishly to dish out cash and cheap fuel to farmers through Aspef, and tractors and other farming implements through the farm mechanisation programme. These treats have failed to improve productivity on farms hence the crippling shortages of food. So the ceremony in Harare this week was virtually to launch a national feeding programme for “empowered farmers”! It is a brazen admission that if one populist project fails our government can always come up with another one.
But this new project is being pitched to portray a false sense of abundance and satisfaction of a population that can now access cheap food. Times of plenty are nigh. Soon there will be pictures in the press and footage on television of beneficiaries lost in ecstasy as they dance to celebrate this latest stroke of generosity from our governor and dear leader. In the past, villagers celebrated a good harvest but today they have been reduced to celebrating handouts and deifying their leaders.
This is exactly what the Zanu PF government wants. Principles of individualism, independence and capital have been replaced by dependence and toadying. I do not really know why our leaders see no scope in providing National Foods with foreign currency to kickstart operations and secure jobs. Our rulers would rather import products and dish them out for nothing than support local manufacturers to create wealth for the nation. I shudder to view this as part of the 100% empowerment promised to us by Zanu PF.
With government having initiated this new feeding programme, we wait to see how it will proceed with the civil servantsâ€™ salaries. Are salaries going to be based on the new purchasing parity established by the cheap groceries or will government move to increase the salaries in tandem with the rising inflation? Then there is the issue of price controls. How will shops survive if they have to sell groceries side by side with the peopleâ€™s shops? We can only imagine how “empowered villagers” will react to shops selling a bottle of cooking at $100 billion instead of $12 billion.
But knowing communication systems and levels of disinformation in rural areas, there is real fear that militias will set prices of goods using the low threshold of the subsidised hamper. We are also keen to know what measures the Ministry of Industry has put in place to protect retailers and manufacturers in the wake of the cheap goods on the market. Do we still need OK, TM, Spar, Lucky Seven or Bambazonke stores? Perhaps not. We do not need to produce
anymore. We have been empowered â€“â€“ to be lazy that is.