THE Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) last week held its annual congress in Victoria Falls. Matthew Chimbghandha was elected new Emcoz president, taking over from Josephat Kahwema. Business reporter Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) caught up with Chimbghandha (MC) at the resort town to discuss several issues, including challenges ahead, government’s resistance to formally adopt the rand as the anchor currency, cash shortages and ease of doing business problems in Zimbabwe. Find below interview excerpts:
KK: Can you start by outlining what your vision and objectives are as the newly-elected Emcoz president?
MC: What I would want to achieve is more cooperation between the workers’ body, the employer body, as well as the government.
The promotion of tripartism is what I would want to see for us to move the economy forward. The economy cannot move forward without intensive tripartism. We have serious problems. We have serious mountains to climb as a country and that cannot be achieved by one body. It has to be the effort of all who are concerned.
KK: What are the major challenges you face as you take up the leadership of Emcoz?
MC: The biggest issue is being frank to the facts, to the reality on the ground without couching it. Things are not well. To give a simple example, pensioners are sleeping outside banks. We do not like a situation like that. People are not even accessing their salaries. There is no money in the banks. There is no trust. The trust that was engendered during the period of the inclusive government has fast dissipated. It is gone. We are now going back to the 2007-2008 situation. These are the real issues. Parents cannot even pay fees for their children who are learning abroad. We, as business, cannot even get money to buy raw materials. There is virtually zilch in the nostro accounts. These are serious challenges that government, employers and labour have to face.
KK: A business delegation which recently met President Robert Mugabe to discuss challenges facing the economy and business has been criticised by some quarters, including labour, for not being forceful in putting across the economic challenges the country faces. What is your view?
MC: Simply put, the leaders know the dire situation in which we find ourselves. His Excellency admitted that we have made some mistakes. He even lambasted state-owned organisations in the name of parastatals that are draining the fiscus. It is not that we were not forceful enough. You do not have to be forceful with facts. You bring facts to the table. They are there for everyone to see. You do not have to harp on facts that are glaring. It is their own opinion, we see things differently.
KK: How often, in your view, should you have such meetings between business and government leaders, given that this one was the first such meeting in a decade?
MC: If we are serious about turning around the economy, it should not only be business meeting with his Excellency. The three parties should meet the President; that is employers, government and labour and give proposals as we discuss our country and the problems bedevilling our economy. We cannot get solutions to our problems if we are not frank with each other and if we are not looking at the problems and addressing them squarely. It is not going to be easy. It is not going to be a walk in the park. If Zimbabwe is to be saved, this is what we need to do. We should meet as often as the situation demands.
KK: There has been a growing chorus to the call for the South African rand to be adopted as the major currency to be used in Zimbabwe. What is your view?
MC: Those recommendations were thrown out by the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. So, we can talk and harp about it, but the managers of the economy have thrown it out.
KK: Nevertheless, would this be a proposal you would agree with?
MC: There was no harm in terms of looking at it seriously. It is surely better than the bond note. I could even ask you, what you would prefer the rand or the bond note?
KK: There is also a proposal, within government circles, of bringing back the local currency backed by gold deposits or reserves. What is your view on this?
MC: Which gold deposits are we talking about? The issue is that we talk a lot, but let us look at reality. Where are these gold deposits? I want to know. I am none the wiser. Those who say so should tell us where these deposits are. It is our right to know where they are. It is not a privilege to know that. It is a right.
KK: There was a survey carried out by Industrial Psychology Consultants that between US$20 million and US$40 million was lost every month in terms of productivity due to workers queuing for cash during working hours. Do the findings reflect the challenges you face in this regard?
MC: The way to answer is that if you earn US$500 and the bank is giving you a maximum of US$20 each time you go there. How many times do you go there? At that bank you are not the only customer. There are hundreds of thousands like you. It is indeed, having a serious impact on productivity. It is not only workers. It is everybody who has money in the bank. When you queue, you do not queue for less than an hour and that is productive time lost. It is really a serious problem.
KK: What has been the impact of Statutory Instrument 64 (SI 64) banning certain imports on the economy?
MC: It is a mixed bag. Others have benefitted while some did not. We have mixed feelings depending on whether you are a manufacturer or seller. SI 64 basically covered foodstuffs and that is not representative of the entire economy.
KK: Government has embarked on ease of doing business reforms. Are you happy with the progress made so far in this aspect?
MC: The taste of the pudding is in the eating. Are we seeing the Ease of Doing Business being practiced? There is talk and then there is action. When you are assessing a system you look at the results. Is it now bearing fruit? Has it addressed all the concerns? Even at the recent interface with the President, business presented some concerns on ease of doing business.
Look at the duty regimes, the heavy-handed taxations and the ransacking of company accounts by Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. At the end of the day you are killing the goose that lays the golden egg. There is a difference between short termism and medium and long term issues. This is why I am saying you need a lot of consultation and tripartism to move forward together. We are one country and one economy that we should build and ensure sustenance and sustainability of that economy.
KK: How effective has the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) — which bribngs together government, labour and business — been?
MC: Well the TNF has been voluntary. It has not been legalised. The TNF bill is on the table. Once it is now a statutory issue, I think it gives it more weight and more prominence.
KK: As a voluntary mechanism how has it been for you as business?
MC: Anything voluntary is not binding. It should be binding when you make a gentleman’s agreement. That is how businesses are run everywhere. Business is not about laws. It is about trust and having confidence in each other. You do what you say and you mean what you say. If you say you will do it, I must not lose sleep worrying whether you will do it. That is what is lacking here. Government says it is going to do this but does not do it.
KK: Are you satisfied with the pace of labour law reforms?
MC: I think it has now gotten traction. It is now moving. The draft bill will be in our hands and we look at it and comment on it. We have come a long way but it is necessary.
KK: At this congress, you discussed the future of work. How relevant is this going forward?
MC: It is an extremely important agenda. We have taken that agenda from the international level and we are now bringing it to our local context. Work is very critical. It brings decency in everybody’s life and the future of work is paramount in a number of aspects. Development itself is work. Productivity is work. Earning foreign currency is work. As a country the future of work is critical. We have to define and get a mutual understanding of what we mean by the future of work. We need a lot of bipartism first, that is the employers and the labour movement. We bring our understanding together and once we have set a common position, a common understanding and draw a plan of action that we will table to government that this is what we want to see. The future of work is the cornerstone of TNF. It is very current and this is where we are going into the future.
It is not an event. It cannot be achieved in one year. It is a process. We started discussing the future of work from the days of the Kadoma Declaration. It was defining the future of work and we still have not made much progress. Time is moving and we have to move with it. The environment and the fundamentals have changed dramatically. So we need to attune ourselves to the environment we are working in and look into the future. We need to shape the Zimbabwe we want to see through our future work.
KK: You have been mandated by your constituency to speak truth to power. Are you up to the task?
MC: This interview is part of that.