Candid Comment: First 100 days, Jury Still Out

AT least 44 days have gone since the new government came in.

The government has been trying with its feet on the ground to reform the situation but so far the more things appear to be changing the more they remain the same. 

However, the jury is still out on its performance, even though the overall picture still remains rather gloomy.
The first 100 days will be an early test for the unity government’s policy initiatives and programmes.

Analysts and critics will look at government’s vision, remit, policy framework and the economic recovery programme.

They will assess how it would have dealt with the social and economic problems buffeting the population.

They will review progress and the governing style, take a close look at the opportunities and challenges lying ahead.

Credit will be given where it is due and criticism will also come in equal measure, if not more.

Finance minister Tendai Biti last week reviewed the budget presented in January.

He slashed it to US$1 billion, from US$1,9 billion. The budget even by regional standards is negligible. It is less than Botswana’s and even lower than South Africa’s budget allocation for social grants.

It is a pittance.
Biti said the government must learn to live within its means, which is a good economic principle.

However, in the process he also indicated — albeit implicitly — that he does not think the economy will recover any time soon.

That’s why he cut the budget by almost half, showing he understands it will take a great deal longer for the economy to recover and for government revenues to start picking up.

From a fiscal policy point of view, Biti’s skimpy cash budget did not offer any real economic incentives and stimulus. Fiscal policy measures are often used by governments to influence the level of aggregate demand in the economy in an effort to achieve economic objectives of price stability, employment and economic growth.

There was no room for manoeuvre for Biti.

All the same, Biti has been trying hard to hit the ground running. He started off with the issue of paying civil servants in foreign currency, US$100 allowances, to persuade them to come back to work. It worked, but most of them are still complaining and threatening to stay away.

This shows that it’s a stopgap measure and not a solution.

Apart from his budget proposals, Biti also came up with a plan to address the current economic crisis. It has been hectic for him ever since February 13.

The Short-Term Emergency Recovery Programme (Sterp), which will cover the period February to December 2009, is defined as an emergency short term stabilisation programme whose key goals are to stabilise the macro and micro-economy, recover the levels of savings, investment and growth, and lay the basis for a holistic economic recovery.

Priorities of Sterp include political and governance issues, constitutional, legislative and media reforms, strengthening government accountability systems, promoting the rule of law, enhancing availability of food and humanitarian assistance, reviving education and health, restoring the value of the “dead” local currency and guaranteeing its stability, ensuring capacity utilisation in all sectors of the economy and, hence, creation of jobs, ensuring the supply of fuel, electricity, water and rehabilitation of collapsed infrastructure.

This is a brilliant wish list. The real challenge for Biti and government lies in implementation. Delivery is going to be a different proposition, especially without resources.

Zimbabwe is hoping for a US$2 billion rescue package from Sadc, but if truth be told the money will be a drop in the ocean even if it comes.

The US$5 billion needed to fund the economic recovery plan is also woefully inadequate even though it would be difficult to find.     

The situation is worsened by the US’s extension of sanctions and EU reluctance to lift its own restrictive measures. Biti and his colleagues will have to redouble their efforts to pull this country out of the doldrums given the sea of troubles engulfing them. It won’t be easy.

There is a long way to go.

So far there is no change in the state of the roads, schools, hospitals, clinics, in the supply of water, electricity and food availability.

The situation will almost certainly remain like this by the time the first 100 days are up and even beyond.
Continued farm invasions and disruption of production is not helping matters. Without the cessation of the land grabs and revival of agriculture, economic recovery will remain a pipe dream.

The vandalisation of agriculture, the country’s economic base, had a ripple effect across a swathe of the economy.

As a result, the economic recovery plan must be anchored on the resuscitation of agriculture. At the moment the opposite is happening.

Attacks on the agriculture sector have resurfaced with greater intensity in some areas.    

This gives a hostage to fortune to the sceptics and critics, including the US and EU. Sanctions must go but surely the issues which led to their imposition must be addressed.

Why is it so difficult for this government to restore democracy, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, property rights and such other values which only dictators fear?  

Let’s wait and see how this government will address these issues. Frankly, it’s not looking good so far!

BY DUMISANI MULEYA