A Stuttering Start

IT is five days since the new coalition cabinet started work, so to speak.

We have no illusions about the momentous task which faces these men and women in getting Zimbabwe to start working again.

We believe the ministers themselves, old and new alike, are alive to the challenge.

We however wish to caution the ministers against the Obama phenomenon, which is creating an unnecessary crisis of expectations among the poor, prisoners, teachers and many other sections of society who expect miracles from the new government.

Let the government not fuel and feed potentially dangerous tendencies it cannot assuage.

It is the fastest way to creating a credibility gap and loss of confidence with the people.

Already blunders have been made about the release of prisoners and the payment of civil servants’ salaries in foreign currency.

No doubt this reflects a hangover from the MDC’s position as an opposition party.

God forbid that this should be a foretaste of the operations of the new government.

The biggest task which the government faces is not about pretending that it has lots of money to spend.

It is not that it has a lot of friends from whom to borrow to finance recurrent expenditure either.

Nor is it an ability to make extravagant promises which will prove impossible to fulfill even with the best intentions in the world.

To us the primary task is to win and hold the confidence of both the sceptics and detractors of the coalition government. It is that plain. It is not that simple to achieve.

Zimbabweans are famed for their patience but they are not fools.

There is therefore no need to make utopian promises about a quick economic turnaround, improved health delivery and agricultural recovery.

Let our ministers, old and new, keep their feet firmly on the ground; they need to separate party slogans from government business.

We all know roughly what kind of mess we are in as a country.

We know the authors of that mess.

But we also know that the reason there is this coalition government is chiefly to get us out of the mess as soon as possible, and not to expose us to more of the same.

What we expect as a starting point is that government gets its priority areas right. In our book those priorities are food, health and education for our children.

It is unfortunate that these are not negotiable and cannot be deferred for too long without rousing the ire of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Failure to deliver quickly on these will only provide cheap fodder for the sceptics for whom nothing positive can ever come out of Zimbabwe, even though some of them are Zimbabwean.

It is not too early to start asking each minister to roll out his plans for the revival of the sector under his charge, especially for the newcomers.

If those selected to be ministers are serious, even before being given a portfolio, they must have known what the problems are and what their party pledged to do to address them.

The demands of transparency and accountability are that these programmes should be laid bare for public scrutiny and comment. Let’s see the new start; let’s see the new brooms.

It is unfortunate that we have nothing positive to say about President Robert Mugabe’s choice of ministers. Joseph Made sticks out like a tree stump on a highway.

His exploits as Agriculture Minister are on the record.

His antics about monkeys disrupting fertiliser supplies from Sable Chemicals and his aerial forecasts of bumper harvests make him Mugabe’s ultimate insult to Zimbabweans.

It is certainly not the way to win public confidence.

The older generation of Zimbabweans will not have forgotten Emmerson Mnangagwa.

He was a key government figure during the Gukurahundi massacres in the early years of Independence following another form of coalition between Zanu PF and PF-Zapu after the 1980 elections.

In an uncanny reincarnation, he has ominously resurfaced as Defence minister in the new coalition.

With all due respect to the principle of collective responsibility, what miracle can we expect from the likes of Ignatious Chombo, Stan Mudenge and Herbert Murerwa?

Long live Didymus Mutasa and Sithembiso Nyoni.

The only “new” faces are from the MDC formations.

That’s as much change as you get from emptying a 300ml bottle of Fanta into the ocean.

What we find salutary is that there will be a healthy competition among the ministers to deliver through their portfolios.

In the past in a virtual one-party state, the tendency was to please the paymaster rather the employer.

Ministers competed to catch the eye of the president while citizens who voted were left to fend for themselves.

If the MDC does nothing else but reverse this culture and make ordinary voters its primary focus that should be a fine beginning.

But so far we have no reason to be too optimistic about its priorities either.

They appear to have joined comrades-in-crime in trying to find or create jobs for friends from the trenches, hence the squabbles over governorships, positions in the public service hierarchy and foreign service.

The government is already too bloated while voters get leaner if they have survived the cholera pandemic.

But from the tinted windows of their newly acquired Mercs, even new ministers have to squint to recognise the poor guys out in the cold where they have just come from.

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