HomeEditorial CommentTheatre of the absurd

Theatre of the absurd

brezh Malaba

ZIMBABWE has become a theatre of the absurd, where the abnormal is normalised and the bizarre is embraced as routine.One minute, you think you have witnessed more chaos than you can ever countenance in one lifetime — and then boom, the mayhem degenerates to utter madness.

Barely 24 hours after Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya issued a Monetary Policy Statement trumpeting the glorious success of his “de-dollarisation” project, a prominent network of petrol stations owned by his political masters dropped a bombshell by announcing that it would now sell fuel in foreign currency.

Stranger than fiction!

But what do you expect when his boss, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube repeatedly claims he has enough food for 7,7 million hungry Zimbabweans — yet the government is unable to feed a few thousand villagers in Binga whose homes were swept away by floods.

One of the factors contributing to the endless cycle of turmoil and uncertainty is the patently irrational behaviour of public officials. On January 31, the Finance minister published in the Government Gazette Statutory Instruments 24 and 25 of 2020. Through these two instruments, he backdated exemptions from income tax and refunds of value-added tax granted to Huawei, a Chinese multinational technology company.

Did you know that Huawei’s total revenue in 2019 stood at a mouth-watering US$122 billion? Zimbabwe’s GDP barely exceeds US$30 billion. You do the math. It is really difficult to wrap your brain around this absurd decision by the government of Zimbabwe to backdate tax exemptions in this scandalous manner. The affair stinks to high heaven.

While tax exemptions are really nothing out of the ordinary, it is clearly illegal for the Finance minister to backdate them. Such conduct — if left unchecked — could fling the door wide open to tax evaders and organised criminals on a grand scale.

We have to remember that this government which is granting a multi-billion-dollar foreign company generous tax exemptions is the same administration which has no qualms with fleecing poverty-stricken Zimbabweans through all sorts of parasitic taxes. Not only is this illegal but also immoral and against the national interest.

The Huawei fiasco leads us to yet another sobering reality: the opaque and unsettling nature of the government’s deals with foreign entities is done through the systematic whittling away of Parliament’s constitutional authority.

A troubling pattern inevitably emerges. Professor Ncube, a smart global citizen with a dazzling CV that commands international gravitas, is increasingly viewed by many as someone who shows little respect to the rule of law. How many times has the Ministry of Finance bungled legally stipulated procedure — only to expect Parliament to sanitise its actions ex post-facto?

Zimbabwe’s governance ethos has become so ridiculous that a week hardly passes without the revelation of one absurdity or another.The introduction of consumer coupons for subsidised maize-meal is one of the latest episodes in this endless drama.

Subsidised maize from the state-run Grain Marketing Board is already being diverted to the underground markets by criminal syndicates. This is the same food the victims of flooding are still waiting in vain for in the forgotten villages of Binga.

Think about it for a moment. If this government is failing to keep a tight lid on the grain silos under its control, how on earth will the authorities ensure that the proposed maize-meal coupons will not be abused by corrupt elites and their cronies?

There is nothing new in all this. Someone somewhere is looking to kill two birds with one stone: cronyism delivers money into the pockets of the rotten elite, while giving political overlords the capacity to compile dodgy databases and use hunger as an instrument of political control.

Zanu PF, we can only conclude, is on an unrelenting campaign to unleash chaos on the masses.

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