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Only genuine reform can rescue economy

THE curtain is finally coming down on what has turned out to be a year of squandered opportunities on the political transition and economic fronts.

In the aftermath of the toppling of Robert Mugabe in November 2017, there was palpable hope that the ouster of one of the most controversial African leaders of modern times — while fraught with political and constitutional imponderables — could actually present the country with a chance to turn a new leaf.
As 2018 comes to an end, all that optimism has evaporated and now appears a distant dream. Despondency has set in. What exactly has happened between November 2017 and December 2018? What has plunged the nation into a suffocating crisis of economic turmoil and hopelessness? Well, the long and short of it is that the government has fared dismally in managing the political transition and the economy. The numbers tell an interesting story.
We witnessed the budget deficit soaring to US$1,3 billion in the first half of 2018 — nearly five times the initial target — as the government embarked on a pre-election splurge which left the public purse decimated. The economic mismanagement spree has been damaging. Free agricultural inputs were distributed to selected voters and huge sums of money were splashed on other unbudgeted expenditure.
All this was done via the irresponsible issuance of Treasury Bills and the abuse of the government’s overdraft facility at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
An appraisal of 2018 would not be complete without mention of the currency volatility crisis which is rocking the economy. It has been fuelled by failed policies, chiefly the fallacy that the bond note is at par with the United States dollar. The market knows the real value of the bond note, hence the turbulence we have seen triggered by the official 1:1 fallacy. Even Zanu PF members are complaining about this.
The 2018 general elections were another squandered opportunity.
Instead of steering the nation forward, the elections have had the opposite effect, with devastating consequences for the economy.
The international community has unequivocally stated its position on the Zimbabwe question: the country must implement the 2013 constitution, while embracing economic and political reforms it has set for itself. Many of the envisaged reforms do not require money — such as repealing the obnoxious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act.
Upholding the rule of law and protecting property rights ought to be the pursuit of any serious government. These are not just Western ideals; they are democratic imperatives. On August 1, the government’s international re-engagement efforts suffered a major reversal when soldiers shot and killed six unarmed civilians in broad daylight on the streets of Harare. A government in desperate need of an economic rescue package from the international community cannot afford reckless and brutal repression. What can Zimbabweans expect in 2019?
Judging from the catastrophic economic fundamentals on the ground, the prognosis is not looking good. Change will depend on fiscal discipline, improved investment policies, policy consistency, and improved governance outcomes through far-reaching legislative and institutional reforms.

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