CIVIC organisations and business groups have asked government to effect immediate changes that address socio-economic problems and consider their participation in the coming constitutional reform process.
The coalition of civic societies and business, among them the Business Council of Zimbabwe (BCZ) and the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations and donors, met Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last week in the capital at the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung Stakeholders Conference and raised their concerns with the inclusive government.
Recommendations of the conference were submitted to Tsvangirai for consideration at the three-day government retreat in Victoria Falls that begins today.
The business community recommended to government a review downwards of taxes and tariffs paid by companies, the restoration of the rule of law, availing of working capital and institutional reforms.
They also proposed what they termed a three-key vision which attributes a vibrant economy with capacity utilisation of at least 60%, improved food security and promotion of a good and sustainable national governance framework.
The national governance framework, according to BCZ, included a new constitution, an independent judiciary and a non-partisan media.
â€œBCZ also raised concerns about the need for adequate funding as government has little or no resources generally,â€ BCZ chairperson Kumbirai Katsande said.
â€œA working party is to be set up in the next few weeks to coordinate and lead the efforts of the private sector in contributing to the constitution-drafting.â€
Civic organisations involved in gender issues demanded a 52% representation of women in all structures of governance in reflection of the demographic make up of the national population.
The pressure groups also demanded 52% of repossessed land be allocated to women.
The womenâ€™s groups recommended that cotton companies should reserve a quota of lint for the domestic market to reduce prices of sanitary ware. They also demanded a reduction in service charges and the provision of wide family planning options.
Officially opening the one-day summit last week, Tsvangirai assured stakeholders that this weekâ€™s government retreat would â€œreinforce the growing sense of team workâ€ and promote accountability of the power-sharing pact despite rolling the economic recovery programme on a â€œnegative starting pointâ€.
â€œThis government does not view these summits as an end in themselves, but rather as means through which we will develop a comprehensive work plan for each ministry, defined deliverables to which the ministers and your government can be held accountable,â€ Tsvangirai said.
The stakeholders conference, Tsvangirai added, would result in the formation of the National Economic Council in line with the Global Political Agreement.
â€œWe must acknowledge that we are initiating our programme of economic development from a negative starting point and as such it is important that we manage expectations of what we will be able to achieve,â€ Tsvangirai said.
He added that no progress would be made if there was no restoration of the rule of law.
â€œHowever, there are many things that we can do to advance this agenda that cost no money. To enforce the rule of law is free; to work with former opponents for betterment of our country is free; to pass reforming legislation to promote investor confidence is free.
â€œThus our development agenda must not be held hostage by our significant fiscal restraints. Indeed, implementing these steps that cost nothing will pave way for economic growth,â€ he said.
Mass Public Opinion Institute national director and University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure said issues like amending media laws would be a â€œlitmus testâ€ for the inclusive government.
â€œOutstanding issues in the global political agreement that require no funding should be the starting point of this retreat,â€ Masunungure said.
â€œWe must see a fundamental change in terms of thinking and behaviour. Government does not need any funding to amend the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act or the Public Order and Security Act. This is a litmus test for the inclusive government.â€
â€œWithout these changes, Masunungure argued, â€œit is impossible to shame sceptics.â€
Apart from amendments to the pieces of legislation, the inclusive government is yet to resolve outstanding issues on the appointment of permanent secretaries, provincial governors and ambassadors.
BY BERNARD MPOFU