GOVERNMENT’S sustained and systematic militarisation of parastatals and public enterprises as well as local authorities has contributed a great deal in breeding a culture of patronage, corruption and looting as these institutions are staffed mainly by people who neither possess the requisite qualifications, experience or competence to run them efficiently and profitably.
Against this backdrop and current exposures of corruption at public entities, institutional reform is therefore critical, beginning with the recruitment of competent people with the necessary skills to turn around the state enterprises and parastatals so that they can fulfil their mandate of facilitating socio-economic development of the country.
Local authorities, which are mainly dysfunctional, also need fixing.
Any attempt to deal with the underperformance and corruption which have become bywords for parastatal management should also focus on a serious review of the personnel which also means evaluating the performance of the executives and employees at these institutions.
This simple logic appears to escape Jason Machaya, the Midlands Provincial Affairs minister and many other Zanu PF officials who continue to insist on the deployment of military personnel to public institutions.
“Some people always say government is militarising institutions,” Machaya said last week during his address to soldiers at a send-off party in Kwekwe for 5 Brigade Deputy Commander, Colonel Morgan Mzilikazi who was re-assigned, adding, “but let me remind them that the world over military personnel have proved to be the best managers for parastatals because they are highly disciplined, loyal, dedicated and most of all principled”.
“They do not behave like what the country is just witnessing where chief executive officers and board members are conniving to award themselves salaries and benefits that are out of this world.”
But as analysts say Zimbabwe needs to transcend the narrow confines of liberation war mentality and the politics of patronage to implement critical reforms to ensure viability of parastatals, public enterprises, local authorities and the civil service in general.
They say that the systematic militarisation of state institutions which started in the 1990s, while rewarding cronies who have helped Zanu PF entrench its rule, has haemorrhaged public institutions bringing them to the brink of collapse while doing ordinary Zimbabweans a disservice in the process.
From the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) whose many wagons are rotting away from disuse and disrepair to the beleaguered Grain Marketing Board (GMB) which is suffering from a common disease among public entities – incompetent and corrupt management – while the nation suffers chronic food insecurity, soldiers have been straddling the terrain of public institutions for over two decades with virtually no achievement to show for it.
Bulawayo-based analyst Emmanuel Ndlovu bemoaned the militarisation of public institutions saying while the government has rewarded those “who risk their lives to protect the regime,” the resultant plunder of resources have “prevented the economic growth of the country.”
“Unfortunately their failure has a ripple effect as they are expected to also act as enablers of other sectors of the economy. For instance the failure of Zesa impacts negatively on other sectors like agriculture and industry,” Ndlovu wrote in an article titled Institutional Reform Critical for Zimbabwe’s Parastatals.
Ndlovu advocated the return to professionalism including the enactment of laws to “make sure that appointments to parastatals, promotions and disciplinary control are dealt with on a continuous standard of detached impartiality and fairness, uninfluenced by political changes or pressure.”
But such arguments have failed to sway the likes of Machaya and other Zanu PF officials whose continued hold on power has hinged on military support.
In his pronouncements, Machaya was merely echoing his superior President Robert Mugabe. During the funeral of Retired Air Commodore Mike Karakadzai, Mugabe declared that the deployment of ex-military officers in civil positions like state enterprises would continue as they have the skills and are role models of “valour, patriotism, honesty, industriousness and discipline”.
“One gets surprised when our detractors question the wisdom of deploying ex-military officers in State institutions and they describe such deployments as the militarisation of institutions concerned,” said Mugabe who seemed oblivious to the fact that Karakadzai had presided over the collapse of the NRZ to a point where workers went for months without being paid.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. These men and women are role models of valour, patriotism, honesty, industriousness and discipline, all qualities that are beyond reproach,” Mugabe claimed.
It maybe that Machaya, as it was with Mugabe, was grandstanding and skirting around real issues but such sentiments, analysts argue, are not helpful in as far as arresting the rot in public enterprises so that they can fulfil their mandate of contributing to the overall economic and social development.
Former state enterprises and parastatals minister Gorden Moyo presented a damning report to cabinet in 2012 detailing how the parastatals were continuing to perform dismally with the majority making losses amounting to millions of American dollars.
Of particular interest was the NRZ which was said to require over US$2 billion at the time to resuscitate operations. Not only did it record a loss before tax of over US$60 million with low capacity utilisation, high overheads and operational inefficiencies, its workers went unpaid for more than six months while management, led by Karakadzai, continued to receive their salaries and allowances.
Needless to say, Mugabe and the politburo subsequently rewarded Karakadzai with national hero status when he passed on a year later and as if that was not bad enough, he promised to continue deploying to public enterprises people like him because “men and women with the correct political ideology and military prowess such as Cde Karakadzai formed the backbone of our defence forces at independence”.
The same report revealed GMB had not posted a profit in the past decade. Like the NRZ, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), Air Zimbabwe and many others have had and continue to have their fair share of military personnel who have however failed dismally in restoring viability.
At ZBC, former board member, retired Brigadier Elliot Kasu and retired Brigadier-General Benjamin Mabenge are among those fired by Information minister Jonathan Moyo for some rot which saw suspended CEO Happison Muchechetere pocketing over US$40 000 a month while ordinary workers went unpaid for more than seven months.
But even with this record of failings, Mugabe and Zanu PF continue to bury their heads in the sand and appoint military personnel to public enterprises because this enables them to maintain what analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya calls a “hegemonic hold on power”.
Gorden Moyo narrated how he faced numerous challenges during his tenure as minister because the “terrain of public enterprises was a dangerous minefield of military personnel.”
“When I was the state enterprises minister, I called all parastatal board members to my office,” he said at a public forum in Bulawayo last week. “I was surprised most introduced themselves as retired brigadiers, retired colonels, retired generals and retired commanders. So why is this a problem? It is a problem because the current government has been propped up by the military.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and its predecessors have been dominated by military officials since 2000, with the likes of Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba once heading the body when it was still called the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC).
Nyikayaramba had allegedly retired from the army to become chief elections officer at the ESC in the 2002 and 2005 polls when he had in fact not. He later emerged after helping Mugabe and Zanu PF win elections as commander of 3 Brigade in Mutare. Zec’s current deputy chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana is also a former army officer.
In the final analysis, analysts say, such statements by Mugabe and Machaya reflect the hierarchy of interests in the Zanu PF where political expedience takes precedence over good management and service delivery.