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Comment: Focus On Policy, Not Just Power

THE announcement this week that the government is deferring the writing of Grade 7 examinations to the end of the month epitomises the unprecedented level of state dysfunction as a result of the political paralysis that has affected the economy over the past decade.

The falling education standards are taking root when the country’s main political protagonists — President Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF and the leaders of the two MDC formations Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara — are haggling over cabinet posts under the unity government agreement they inked on September 15.
Among the objectives of the inclusive government once it becomes operational is to revive the education and health delivery systems and above all the economy.
The amount of work to hand is enormous for the proposed unity government. The mess in the schools and in the health sector marks the low point we have plumbed as a nation. The new government which has to start from a point of immense disadvantage is required to make pragmatic and timeous decisions to rescue the country from further collapse. But haggling in the last three week does not inspire confidence. The failure by Zanu PF and the two MDC factions to form a cabinet casts doubt on the ability of the government to deliver for the nation. This fight for cabinet posts could be a precursor to more battles ahead between the political players in the inclusive government.   
The leaders are wasting valuable time on the allocation of posts instead of focusing on key policy issues that the government will pursue going forward.
It scarcely matters who holds what portfolio when the policy of the government is unclear. What they should be haggling over right now are policy issues rather than which party holds which portfolio.
It’s an unnecessary cosmetic fight which only gets prominence because it is all about egos.
The two main parties (MDC-Tsvangirai and Zanu PF) are still diametrically different on fundamental issues to do with land reform, the running of local authorities, indigenisation and opening up of the economy. The situation on the ground is desperate and it is selfish and potentially fatal for our leaders to be involved in these attritional battles when children cannot write exams, half the country is without water and electricity and when companies continue to close daily. Common ground should be found to move Zimbabwe forward. The interest of common people should be respected more than positions in government.
Another future hurdle will be on foreign policy. Mugabe has demonstrated that he will not shift his hostile stance towards the West and would like the unity government to continue with his “Look East” policy — a move the MDC would not countenance.
Tsvangirai and his party, according to their policy document, would want to re-establish relations with the West hoping to attract the desperately needed lines of credit, balance of payments support and foreign direct investment.
The arguments around which party should land which post has been reduced to simplistic levels which pre-suppose that individual ministers will implement their respective party policies independently of government. That is fatuous to say the least. Under the unitary scheme, the minister will still be accountable to the Council of Ministers, Cabinet and to Parliament.
Progress and development will be achieved through clear government policy guiding the operations of individual ministries. The Minister of Local Government for example cannot achieve much if portfolios dealing with water and electricity are dancing out of tune. Equally, the Ministry of Finance will be redundant if Agriculture, Industry and Mining ministries are pulling the other way.
The haggling happening now could set a bad precedent for future activities of government, especially in the implementation of policies.
Mugabe is still to be convinced that he bears some responsibility for the state of the economy. He also still has to be convinced that the old style of governance will not work in the current circumstances. He still believes that his cabinet is more patriotic and nationalistic than any candidate that may come from the opposition. He holds the view that sovereignty is more secure if Zimbabwe remains under his control. He will need to be persuaded that power can be shared without sovereignty being compromised.
But sharing power is not a simple game of dishing out positions to individuals. It is shared responsibilities and achieving a common understanding of the extent of the work to be done. It is conviction that Zimbabwe is bigger than parochial and sometimes discredited party dogmas. It is common sense.

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