HomeOpinionEric Bloch: Increasingly beserk govt spending

Eric Bloch: Increasingly beserk govt spending

By its own admission, the Zimbabwean government is to all intents and purposes bankrupt.

Column By Eric Bloch

It is substantially devoid of the resources needed to fund the essential needs of the country’s educational sector and national health.

It also does not have funds to promote the economic recovery and development of national infrastructure (including electricity generation and distribution, water resources, and much else) which is key to the country’s development.

When entities and individuals in the private sector have inadequate funding for their needs, they generally seek opportunities of cutting-back and reducing their expenditures, and prioritise spending in accord with their most essential needs. But not so with government!

All too often, the expenditures incurred are those which the politicians desire for self-enrichment and this is notwithstanding their recurrent public declarations of intents to contain and curtail expenditures.

Over and over again, the alleged intentions of expenditure probity and containment bear no resemblance to the actual expenditures incurred, and result in an ever-intensifying national indebtedness. Moreover, all too frequently the State spendings are of minimal benefit, if any, to the populace.

The latest of these expenditure intents became known very shortly after the tabling of the 2013 national budget before parliament.

In presenting that budget, Finance minister Tendai Biti very correctly and unreservedly bewailed the magnitude of Zimbabwe’s debts in 2012, and emphatically urged curtailment of expenditures, save and except for those of an absolutely essential need.
However, his advice clearly fell upon deaf ears, for only a few days later hardcore elements in the Zanu PF upper echelons announced plans for the construction of an entire new city, to be situated at Mt Hampden, styled to resemble South Africa’s Sandton City in Johannesburg.
The Mt Hampden city is to house parliament and the senate, in place of the building presently opposite Africa Unity Square in Harare. It is to host a considerable number of ministries and other governmental departments. Numerous mansions, including a presidential residence and a state house will be within that city, as well as houses for ministers and civil servants. To service the needs of the intending residents, Mt Hampden city will have a state-of-the-art shopping mall, parks, other leisure areas, and much, more. Indisputably, all this will necessitate expenditure of billions of dollars, which Zimbabwe does not have, and can only access by incurring yet further debts.
The alleged motivation for creating the proposed new city is in order to eliminate congestion that afflicts traffic in Harare, and it cannot be denied the combination of the growth of Harare’s population, and the greater numbers of vehicles traversing that city, has occasioned very considerable congestion.
The city’s ills have also been compounded by numerous infrastructural deficiencies occasioned both by increased population and scarcity of financial resources and technically as well as administratively-skilled municipal personnel. Certainly these ills and woes require substantive attention, but surely not constructing a complete new city! Widening of streets, construction of ring roads and fly-overs, effective and consistently operating traffic control lights and like actions would considerably alleviate much of the congestion that presently afflicts Harare, and at considerably lesser cost. Likewise, at far lesser cost, Harare service delivery of water and other utilities and services can be addressed, as against having to initiate such facilities in a new city.
In any event, governments must strive to identify priorities realistically, and to pursue them to an extent as is practical within the bounds of available resources. How can any right-thinking representatives of the populace credibly contemplate colossal expenditures on the creation of a new city when, on the one hand, the country clearly has a national debt in excess of US$11 billion? A total of three years’ budgets would be required to settle Zimbabwe’s current national debt.
Moreover, it is incomprehensible as to how anyone can contemplate the massive expenditure entailed in the development of a large, modern city, when funding is critically required for almost all the state’s parastatals, and for the rehabilitation and enhancement of infrastructure.
Zesa is tantamount to being insolvent. Air Zimbabwe is, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt; able to provide only very minimal services, to the prejudice and endangerment of tourism and the business sectors.
National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is in a like parlous state. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority is burdened by a considerable lack of resources needed for full delivery and provision of essential water supplies to many urban centres, and to rural communities. TelOne has frequent constraints on the operation of intercity, regional and international telephone services, and recurrent interruptions of internet operations.
Hospitals and clinics are ill-equipped, as also is the case with governmental educational facilities, be they schools, universities, polytechnics or others. Many of Zimbabwe’s roads and bridges are in grievous disrepair. And those are but a few of the state-driven operations and services that are in urgent need of state funding.
However, the political hierarchy instead wish to build a brand-new, very up-market city. Is the reason for so wishing genuinely out of exaggerated concern at the congestion that afflicts the present capital city, or are there self-edification aspirations or other ulterior motives driving this grossly ill-conceived declared intent? Or has that political hierarchy gone completely beserk?

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