This is the first article written by Eric Bloch in his column on May 10 1996 when the Zimbabwe Independent was launched.
His last was on September 5 2014 entitled Thumbs up for Mangudya’s measures.
At the time of his death, Bloch had contributed over 953 articles. Some record!
For decades it operated as if it were a private company having a limited number of shareholders drawn from one sector of the community only, but it was the largest in central Africa.
Its operations encompassed the territory from the Limpopo to the Zambezi, from the Chimanimani Mountains to the Botswana boarder.
“Rhodesia Pvt Ltd” functioned under the management of a board of directors appointed by its small body of shareholders, and its activities impacted upon all aspects of daily life, security and well being of not its members but also all who lived within the company’s operational environment.
It was engaged in the provision of education utilities, transport, communications, health facilities, security and all else that compromised the daily needs of the community.
It managed not only its own foreign exchange dealings but also those of all within its territory.
It directed and controlled the importation of goods and applied innumerable other economic controls upon not only its own enterprise but that of the entirely of its populace.
But whilst it did so not only for the benefit of its shareholders, focusing to some degree upon the needs of the whole community, at times the perceived interests of the exclusive shareholder body were pre-eminent.
Then a little over 16 years ago, it went public. Shareholding become open to all, and they exercised their new-found status by appointing a new board of directors under the gavel of a newly elected ‘chief executive’.
Initially the venture thrived for financiers the world over knocked upon the corporate doors, offering their fiscal resources to counter the entity’s gross under capitalisation.
The suddenly acquired cash flows could have been applied towards development, to the building of in-come-producing infrastructure yielding ever greater earnings for the benefit of a nation of share holders.
Instead the entity went manpower- crazy, vastly increasing its employee body and concomitantly the massive support base required for the mass of new employees.
Some of the employees were critically and urgently required for the expanding educational and health operations of “Zimbabwe Ltd” the company’s new name.
However, many of the employees were appointed not for their skill and their potential contribution tops the organisations development and growth.
They were appointed in recognition of past services towards the public flotation of the entity, or because of those they knew instead of what they knew.
They filled worldwide public relations post or middle and senior management posts which they were unsuited for and which they were not required for effective operations or maximised share holder yields.
The “company” found itself confronted with a rapidly escalating overhead burden vastly exceeding its revenue flows and operational deficits grew hand grew, necessitating continuing and increasing recourse for crippling levels of borrowing After almost decade of declining fortunes, the board and the shareholder representatives (known as MPs) resolved the drastic action was required.
After much consultation with local and international expects new strategies were evolved band developed, centred upon diminished board controls.
This allowed market forces to motivate and drive operations based upon increased international trade, divesting of business to others and enablement of competitive activity, and placing considerable emphasis upon cost containment and intensified fiscal controls.
Implementation of the strategies would be the task of the board as a whole, of the shareholder representatives and of all shareholders, but the strategic thrust would be led primarily by two executive directors.
One was responsible for fiscal management, whilst the others management portfolio was that of industry and trade.
Great enthusiasm was expressed for the revolutionary strategies, vested with the acronym of Esap, which were seen as the assured path to a restoration of good fortunes.
The enthusiasm was not matched with an equal degree of managerial resolve, and half hearted and lethargic implementation was compounded by adverse impacts of the climate elements, with the result that the anticipated recoveries were slow in materialising.
The lack of management worsened when, tragically, one of the principal management players died in a wasteful motor accident.
His loss to the management team and hence to the shareholders as a whole was immense, but inconceivably it then took the greater part of a year for him to be replaced, with stand-ins seeking to cope with his onerous tasks whilst concurrently addressing their own.
Circumstances deteriorated further when the other and even more senior lead player in the management team fell victim to ill-health, and for 18 months no substantive management appointee was at the fiscal helm.
Ultimately and belatedly, the void was filled with the appointment of a man of exceptional integrity and ability who rapidly set about making up for lost time and putting in place the long determined but not implemented fiscal disciplinary strategies.
Yet again the expeditious attainment of objectives was to be frustrated, but his sudden and premature demise, within a few months of taking office, after nearly three months of severe illness.
The precedent of prolonged dilatoriness in appointing successors to essential top management posts recurred once more, and for a period which already effectively exceeds 10 months, Zimbabwe Ltd has been without a substantive incumbent to manage its straitened financial circumstances, albeit that a very temporary appointee works strenuously to maximise damage control whilst striving to fulfil his other very considerable and important obligations.
Were this sorry saga to apply to a genuine company in the private sector, all would be highly castigatory of its failure to have a complete and effectual board, a total management team driving to achieve its Mission statement.
Creditors would withhold supplies, financiers would not only withhold further advances, but would call up those previously made, shareholders would vociferously voice their disapproval and concerns.
The company would be placed in liquidation or judicial management (and probably be confronted with allegations of economic sabotage!)
It is incomprehensible that the fundamental principles of sound and economic management cannot be applied within the public sector.
The result is that, as with shareholders of a mismanaged private sector enterprise, the totality of the stakeholders, being the public at large, must suffer while the prospect of recovery and advancement is grossly delayed.