Govt must bite the bullet

WHEN Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa made some rare candid remarks about the country’s development trajectory, policies and investment matrix during his visit to China last month, one would have thought, at the risk of being accused of breath-taking naivety, it signified a paradigm shift.

Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya

Only the deeply cynical would have perhaps just dismissed his remarks offhand.

In that insightful interview with state-run CCTV in Beijing, Mnangagwa said government would have to “bite the bullet” to change its development path to attract foreign direct investment and catch up with other African countries.

Noting the country is probably 20 years behind other African states, he also said government was “working on a massive reform process”, including on social and legislative frameworks “to bring Zimbabwe back to the table of nations”.

“We must know that investment can only go where it makes a return, so we must make sure we create an environment where investors are happy to put their money because there is a return,” Mnangagwa said. “In fact, capital will go where it finds comfort, so we need to do that; create an ease of doing business environment. We have to see how we can create an investment environment which will attract the flow of capital.

“These are the tasks we face and we have to look at even legislation, and our social systems need to be reformed in order to catch up with current global trends. So we are looking at the reform measures that China has gone through to help us move forward.”

Mnangagwa even seemingly embraced the Communist Party of China’s idea of leadership renewal and change, indicating Zimbabwe also needs to go through a profound reform process as his host nation did following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping.

Against this backdrop, one would have expected that upon Mnangagwa’s return from Beijing and the deployment of Chinese experts to work in Mugabe’s office to accelerate the reform process he would have engaged ministers and other senior government officials to start gradually changing course.

One of the best ways to show there is a mindset and policy shift on the horizon would have been through Chinamasa’s fiscal policy review statement last week. Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya’s monetary policy statement on Wednesday could have also been used to give those indications.

However, the two statements did not do that. Chinamasa’s statement in particular — through which government adjusts its spending and taxation levels to influence the economy compared to monetary policy that under normal circumstances mainly deals money supply — should have dealt with structural and policy issues. It should have also addressed fundamental reform issues.

It is now clear government has to decide to do difficult or unpleasant things that it has been putting off or avoiding over for years, while accepting inevitable attendant hardships and enduring the resulting pain if it intends to rescue the crumbling economy characterised by massive company closures and job losses.

However, Chinamasa did not address critical issues. He evaded the need to overhaul or better still repeal the damaging indigenisation policy, re-engaging international creditors and funders, deep economic reforms and how to attract investment, beyond talking about ease of doing business in a fragmented and incoherent way.

The minister said the Office of the President and Cabinet is currently seized with the coordination and fast-tracking of implementation of ease of doing reforms through thematic technical working groups, with representation from line ministries, public enterprises and local authorities, to produce results by end of December, but piecemeal adjustments or tinkering won’t change anything.

A holistic package is what is needed here. This must include comprehensive and systematic political and economic reforms, including leadership renewal and institutional and policy changes. Obviously, Mugabe would not accept this but then nothing will change unless and until Zanu PF and government bite the bullet.