Comment: No Magic Wand

AT the time of the rise in the price of oil early this year, US President Bush in a Rose Garden session with the media admitted in a rather disingenuous way that he had no immediate solution to the cost of fuel at the pump.

 

“If there was a magic wand to wave, I’d be waving it, of course,” he said. “I think that if there was a magic wand, and say, okay, drop price, I’d do that… But there is no magic wand to wave right now.”

Those looking for immediate answers to the oil price crisis were quick to pounce on the “no solution” response and pilloried the Bush administration’s energy policy. But the strength of the no solution answer lay in the honesty of the US government at the time that the issue at stake was beyond its capacity because of many exogenous factors.

Those entrusted to lead this country out of the current low, including RBZ governor Gideon Gono would wish that they could wave a magic wand to deal with multitude of problems plaguing our economy; from hyperinflation, food shortages, joblessness, corruption and to low productivity. Unfortunately he can’t wave the magic wand to bring change or better still to just make the last four years of his reign as governor to disappear.

On Wednesday Gono launched three products to allow wholesalers, retailers and fuel importers to charge in foreign currency. He said the products were set to enhance foreign currency generation and increase capacity utilisation on farms and in industry. While the measures evoke the wow factor, they have no semblance of Houdini’s exploits.

To his credit though, the governor has remained consistent in terms of the basics required to initiate the revival process; increasing the availability of foreign currency in the formal sector; supply of basic goods and services and promoting production of commodities through enhanced capacity utilisation. This seemingly small package of reforms is generally accepted as the panacea to fighting inflation and reduce poverty. But this is no walk in the park.

Amid one of the worst economic declines ever recorded in living memory, policy analysts looking at the situation in this country have oft promoted a pedantic notion that our problems can be fixed by allowing market forces to take the place of government controls. Gono responded to calls to float the currency by liberalising the foreign currency market, which did not pass for a magical moment. The parallel market is still alive and thriving.

The semi-dollarisation of the economy announced this week is also a pressured response to legitimise the use of foreign currency in local transactions. But this could still be very inadequate; which brings us to the challenge facing MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in his proposed capacity as the handyman to fix this economy and bring about a turnaround.

There is danger in positioning Tsvangirai as the silver bullet to sort out our problems because he is not, neither can he wave a magic wand.

In his armour though are promises of rescue packages which would start heading this way once he is given control of government. The novelty he brings on board also makes him a more trusted change agent than President Mugabe.

During his campaign for the March polls, he announced a $10 billion package waiting to be poured into this economy. Recently donors have advertised various other amounts which they are prepared to release once an internal settlement has been secured.

Balance-of-payment support is badly needed to give the economy room to breathe and the funds promised us provide the right tonic.

But the money is not coming immediately. On the day Tsvangirai gets into office, he will be confronted with the same economic problems which Gono and successive Finance ministers have laboured to deal with in the past decade; including the breakdown in amenities and social services. Not only that; those who have made dishonesty, truancy and corruption a career will not suddenly repent and follow Tsvangirai. They will put up a fight as they have done every time new measures have been introduced to fight illegality.

Tsvangirai is well aware of the challenge to hand as he articulated it Gweru at the weekend.

“You cannot mess yourself and ask me to clean you up and then you want to dismiss me afterwards. In the same vein, if Mugabe wants me to clean up the mess, then he has to give me the power,” he said.

Unfortunately, Tsvangirai once in office will not be judged by demonstrating ability to identify and dissect the mess that has been created by the Zanu PF government. We are going to judge him by his ability to roll up his sleeves and scrub the floors. The Zanu PF government has failed to do this; that’s why he is needed for the job. He has to achieve it with or without the billions promised by well-wishers. Failure is not an option.

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