PRESIDENT EMMERSON Mnangagwa’s trip last weekend to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, brought to the fore the issue of transparency on economic deals cut during state and official, as well as working visits by the country’s leader to various parts of the world.
While every leader of a country anywhere in the world undertakes such trips usually to strengthen diplomatic and economic relations, the issue of transparency and accountability always looms large.
People back home — taxpayers who fund the President’s travels — always rightly ask what he was up to and how that would help the nation, especially Zimbabwe which is in economic distress.
Citizens in general, voters in particular, always want to know whether such trips are beneficial to the country or a waste of taxpayers’ funds. They even ask if the visits are really motivated by the national interest or a predatory pursuit of elite interests — that is the interests of the political and business class.
While in Abu Dhabi, Mnangagwa held talks with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Sultan Al Nahyan aimed at “striking strategic and mutually beneficial relations”, according to state officials.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister said Sibusiso Moyo said the visit was about “creating a symbiotic relationship and strategic partnership between the Emirates and Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa said the visit was an eye-opener as he had no prior appreciation of the progress the Middle East had made over the years, while he also learnt that “if people are united and have vision they can create institutions and infrastructure of this nature.’’
It is not about unity and vision alone, but effective leadership and good governance.
Transparency too. What exactly was the agenda, what are the details and how would that help the nation? These are some of the questions that arise.
The same applies to visits Mnangagwa made in January to Russia and former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan in Eastern Europe. There was an announcement of memoranda of understanding, but no transparency. This is where the problem lies: a balance between protecting genuine national interest and public interest.
It is also about accountability in its various manifestations: political, citizen, bureaucratic, professional and legal. Public officials must be accountable for decisions they make on behalf of government, the nation and the people, especially those that involve economic, investment and trade issues, as well as debt and loans.
We have heard the argument that transparency would undermine trade and investment agreements as public opposition could scuttle them.
Well, if transparency leads to widespread public opposition to the deals, then those deals do not deserve to be accepted. Transparency and accountability are critical aspects of democracy and good governance.
Investors, both foreign and domestic, clearly benefit from enhanced transparency through regulatory reform, making domestic laws and procedures wieldy and the ease of doing business. Transparency promotes openness and accountability which in turn enhance create a good business climate, investment and development.
So Mnangagwa must be transparent on his trips and resultant deals that he signs on behalf of the nation.