CONFLICTING pronouncements by senior government officials have gone beyond policy inconsistency and are now widely seen as a manifestation of public policy paralysis. Over and above this, the policy paralysis is an indication that the government is now dysfunctional at a time the economic crisis is deepening.
By Hazel Ndebele
Policy discord, coupled with poor governance and bad leadership have become the hallmark in government where officials seem to be competing to contradict each other. In the latest episode, the country’s two Vice-Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko expressed diametrically opposed views on the command economy, which government is contemplating against the backdrop of the current command agriculture.
In an interview with state media last weekend, Mphoko slammed the command economy model, including command agriculture, saying such programmes do not work. The government implemented a Specialised Maize Production and Import Substitution Programme, known as command agriculture, in the 2016/17 summer cropping season was supervised by Mnangagwa. The programme was debated and approved by cabinet, but is subject to intense official wrangling.
Although Mphoko was said to have been in cabinet when the programme was approved, he said: “I don’t know how you want to put it. The (command agriculture) programme, I don’t want to put some of these words you are talking because I have never agreed with them. I trained in the Soviet Union and I know what a planned economy is, but I am saying and we must be very careful not to distort our programmes. Because if you give a headline on a particular subject or a title to a book stick to the title; don’t distort it.”
Mnangangwa and his backers argue that command agriculture has been such a huge success that the concept should be applied to other sectors like fisheries and livestock, consolidating a “command economy” model. The contradictions between the two vice-presidents are seen as factional as Mnangagwa is leading a camp jostling for power, and Mphoko is a key member of the G40 faction, which has coalesced around the First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Analysts say G40 members have been blasting command agriculture and the planned command economy model because they believe Mnangagwa is using the programmes to build a war chest to fund his presidential ambitions, while also using it as a campaign tool.
Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, another key G40 member, has derided the command agriculture programme through acerbic attacks on the social media platform, Twitter.
The contradictions are the latest confirmation of a dysfunctional administration.
Mphoko in the interview also claimed that investors did not care about policy discord in government as they were only driven by self-interest.
“In Zimbabwe there is everything here; you tell them not to invest, but they want milk, fish, gold, platinum, they want all the minerals that we have here. Whether it’s agriculture or what the ministers say, those people are governed by their interests,” he said.
Contrary to Mphoko’s remarks, investors have always said they want certainty, especially when it comes to policies, rules and regulations. The decline in the foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country proves that policy instability erodes confidence for investors. In 2014, FDI was US$545 million, in 2015 it declined to US$421 million and in 2016 it declined further to US$319 million.
The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly warned against government’s policy inconsistency.
“The situation is quite challenging and the conditions have been deteriorating over the past two months. There has been policy inconsistency which might not have been conducive in the terms of traction and momentum that was gained after the Staff-Monitored Programmes,” IMF country representative Christian Beddies told a group of academics last year.
While this is happening, confidence in government and its policies continues to head south. Policy inconsistency is not something new in the Zanu PF-led government. Last year, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya demonstrated different perceptions over the bond notes.
Addressing the 2017 pre-budget seminar in Bulawayo, Chinamasa dropped a bombshell when he announced that counterfeit bond notes were in the market, way before public campaigns on the security features had been rolled out. Chinamasa did not say exactly who was behind the fake notes. Mangudya immediately sprang to the defence of his pet project, dismissing claims by his boss barely a week after.
Contradictions and discord in government have persisted for a long time as reflected in clashes over indigenisation, foreign direct investment and the re-engagement programme.
Chinamasa, for example, announced that cabinet had agreed that civil servants must forego the 13th cheque last year to create fiscal space, but Mugabe played to the gallery during Independence Day celebrations, throwing the finance minister under the bus, insisting government workers would receive their salaries despite the dire economic situation.
In the face of such fire, Chinamasa beat a hasty retreat by apologising for his “procedural mistake”, but also took the opportunity to paint a gloomy picture of the economic situation. Official figures show that salaries now gobble up 96% of the national budget.
Presenting the Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review in September last year, Chinamasa announced government’s intention to cut its bloated civil service wage bill through retrenchments, but Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira came out guns blazing, saying there would be no lay-offs.
Early last year Chinamasa and Indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao publicly clashed over the implementation of the Indiginisation and Economic Empowerment Act with Zhuwao pushing for foreign-owned banks to relinquish at least 51% shareholding to Zimbabwean locals as stipulated by the law, while threatening to withdraw their licences if they failed to comply. Chinamasa, though, argued banks had submitted satisfactory plans.
Mugabe then issued a statement through Information minister Chris Mushohwe seeking to “clarify” the indigenisation policy after the conflicting positions.
Economic analyst Vince Musewe said different messages by government officials erode confidence in government and therefore results in non-optimal use of resources and waste.
“We are not going to see any meaningful change until we get a team that is not only competent but also sings from the same hymn sheet,” Musewe said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said state policy inconsistencies and contradictions are now largely fuelled by succession.