FOR a long time, the business sector in this country has seen itself as insular and too content to concern itself with matters of leadership, governance and policy.
It took the catastrophic implosion of the economy — the most dramatic plunge of any peacetime state in recent history — to finally convince captains of industry that they had to end their silence and speak out without fear or favour. Pussyfooting was no longer helpful.
In that connection, it was encouraging to see representatives of the business sector meeting President Robert Mugabe yesterday to propose measures to address the deepening economic crisis.
The big question is: will Mugabe listen? He is notorious for not paying heed to advice. A deadly mix of economic mismanagement by the Zanu PF government, policy inconsistency, high-level corruption and toxic politics has dragged this economy back to 1950 levels. The buck stops with Mugabe, and the time has come for him to stop blaming everyone, else except himself and act. The businesspersons, in the first meeting of its kind in a very long time, raised various important issues that require Mugabe’s urgent attention, including ensuring policy coherence and consistency. Although they initially appeared rather too timid to tell Mugabe about the brutal reality of a broken economy, the message was eventually put across loud and clear: Zimbabweans are crying out for help and if the authorities continue doing nothing decisive to rescue the situation, the damage may be irreversible.
A 17-page document prepared by business for the meeting implored government to embrace critical reforms, among them, improving the investment environment, fiscal sustainability and financial sector stability, state enterprise renewal and stamping out corruption in both public and private sectors. “It is important that a national investment framework be established as an anchor for investment to guide investment across the country,” the document says.
“Most important is the need to ensure policy coherence and consistency, so as to entrench macroeconomic stability fundamentals for the country,” it adds. The business sector is spot-on. Markets are sensitive to politically induced turmoil.
“There is need for government to prioritise investment, harmonising investment laws, creating a viable and active One-Stop Shop and promptly addressing whatever nuances, as may be identified by investors,” the business sector says. They cited examples of countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and India, which have benefitted from “the capacity to harness a growing tide of both domestic and foreign direct investment through deliberate policies that were continually refined overtime, but expressly designed to attract foreign direct investment”.
Business called on Mugabe to ensure comprehensive changes to the current legislation relating to indigenisation and economic empowerment. In their document, business also tackled the issue of state enterprise reform. Loss-making parastatals are a huge drain on public resources. The time has come for captains of industry to have the courage of their convictions and speak out in the public interest. As a collective, they can become a powerful agent for reform.