The result has been that very little discussion is being allowed for policy issues that will stimulate economic growth because parties across the political divide are playing their cards close to their chest for fear of cleansing their strange bedfellows in the inclusive government. One area that has suffered is the development of policies to ensure the regeneration of skilled manpower. Government officials, together with players in the business sector, have lamented the flight of skilled labour to the diaspora and wish that those who left the country would return to play their part in nation-building.
However, in spite of all the rhetoric about economic recovery, not much has been done to fill the void left by those who were forced to flee the country. The reality that Zimbabwe has to face is that those who left the country did so in pursuit of a better life — and they have found just that in the diaspora, making it unlikely that they will return for the sake of patriotism. Government and industry are culpable for neglecting the issue, to the extent that employers are scrounging for the scarce skilled labour in a hostile fashion that has rendered even mediocrity critical to operations.
The obvious solution is an investment in vocational training — itself compromised by the flight of lecturers and mentors. The ministry in charge of manpower development should tell the nation what it is doing about developing critical skills. In the 1980s and 90s, apprenticeship training was a major source of vocational skills but the downturn in the economy has meant that companies are unable to provide training as they prioritise survival. It is in this light that the government should consider coming up with incentives for companies that prioritise increasing the national pool of skilled manpower.
Labour and Social Welfare minister, Paurina Mpariwa should engage her Finance counterpart, Tendai Biti, on incentives that would make industry commit more resources to the development of human capital now so that when economic recovery moves into top gear, the requisite resources to support recovery would be available.
The other way could be for the government to put in place incentives for the generational transfer of skills from diasporans so that those who wish to assist the country could come back home for a limited period during which they would impart knowledge to trainees. However, this would only work if the incentives are attractive. The long and short of it is that Mpariwa should realise that her ministry has to do more than negotiating for public servants’ salaries or lounging around. She has to engage stakeholders to craft policies that will move the nation forward.
One wonders if people like Mpariwa really understand what is expected of them in the reconstruction of the country because their deafening silence on critical issues in their portfolios is quite shocking. In other countries such as Britain, the issue of manpower development is so critical that there is constant debate and review of policies to ensure that they keep up with developments.
An example is the proposed graduate tax that has made Britain’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable, unpopular. Zimbabwean government officials seem only to be preoccupied with political positions that do not put food on the table of most Zimbabweans who, quite frankly, do not care who runs the country as long as they are competent and democratic. Talking of economic recovery without looking at the supply side of human capital is pointless.