AT the heart of Zimbabwe’s long-running governance crisis is the failure by public officials to abide by legal stipulations on prudent economic management.
The preamble to the constitution underlines the importance of “transparent and accountable governance”. Founding values and principles of this republic include transparency, accountability, justice and responsiveness.
Let me emphasise that the constitution is supreme. The first duty of any public official is to defend the constitution. This has not been happening. Public finances are now at the mercy of criminals. In Zimbabwe today, the “gravy train” is not a mythical construct like Santa Claus, but an existential reality.
From 2015 to 2018, inclusive, the Zanu PF government clocked up unauthorised expenditure totalling US$10,6 billion, in blatant violation of the constitution which requires Treasury to seek condonation from the National Assembly within 45 days. Last week, the Ministry of Finance went to Parliament to beg for forgiveness. Strangely, the government still lacks the decency to properly explain what happened to all that money. Public funds are being looted in this country. The economic collapse is directly linked to mismanagement, corruption and policy failure. Zimbabwe is experiencing its steepest economic decline in living memory and all the indicators on the dashboard are terrifying.
The economic projections are grim: gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk remarkably; extreme poverty is on the rise; unemployment is shooting up; hunger is terrorising an ever-increasing number of people; inflation has decimated incomes; and the Zimbabwean dollar is worthless. Massive economic dislocation has heightened the potential for social unrest.
Highlighting this turmoil, the official Zimdollar rate has fallen by 60% within 10 days. On the parallel market, the bloodbath has continued unabated, despite desperate manoeuvres by the authorities to throttle mobile money transactions and suspend the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. This week, the International Monetary Fund revised its GDP growth projection from -7,4% to -10,4%. The numbers are unsettling.
On Wednesday, I participated in a discussion with University of Zimbabwe economics professor Tony Hawkins. He says while runaway inflation is devastating, what is more worrying is that the government does not seem to have “plan B” after its economic recovery plan was reduced to tatters. There is no substitute for economic and political reform. “After averaging 255% in 2019, inflation has averaged 655% in the first five months this year. The average for this year is projected at 750% to 850% (best case scenario). Hyperinflation has translated into rapid currency depreciation, which in turn has driven prices sharply higher. A vicious cycle,” Hawkins says.
There is hope yet. Something worthwhile may emerge from this spiral of chaos. As history has shown, there is no better catalyst for change than utter mayhem.