UNITED Kingdom-based lawyer and blogger Alex Magaisa last month published a list of beneficiaries of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) farm mechanisation programme, that included cabinet ministers, Zanu PF bigwigs, judges, the clergy and senior government officials. The article sparked debate, with some beneficiaries stating that the money they received through the programme was not a loan, an assertion supported by former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono (GG, pictured). Chief reporter Andrew Kunambura (AK) recently sat down with Gono for a wide-ranging interview, in which he argues he never personally benefitted from the scheme and that his successor, John Mangudya was making the same mistakes he made. Below are the excerpts from the interview:
AK: You have been leading a very quiet private life for seven years after retiring from the RBZ. How have you been spending that time away from the limelight?
GG: Indeed, it will be seven years in November this year since I retired. I was fortunate enough to retire at the age of 54, with 36 years of working experience under my belt. Many people are not aware that my family has been in business from the early 1990s well before I joined CBZ as its CEO. Against that background, I found myself, after retirement, assuming the leadership reigns of the family business full time from 2014.
AK: Some of your businesses like Lunar Chickens collapsed allegedly under huge bank loans, can you shed light into why they collapsed?
GG: Upon assuming full leadership of the family business in 2014, I discovered through forensic audits that management that had been entrusted with running our businesses had defrauded the family companies and accumulated debts. Banks mercilessly came after us, so the first four years were a bitter struggle to stay afloat, while the last three years have seen my new team rebuilding the fortunes of our diversified group.
We used to have court summons delivered to our premises almost every month, but we survived. In such situations, you do not need any limelight. You allow people to speculate and come to their own conclusions while you pursue your turnaround plans. We draw important lessons from mishaps and ensure that we do not repeat mistakes of the past.
AK: Let us now turn to the RBZ. What was its bill of health when you left?
GG: This economy experienced its highest growth rates during the Government of National Unity (GNU) years of 2009-2013 when I left. Together with all other team players in the GNU in the political and economic spheres, the balance sheet of the central bank, the balance sheets of the banking sector as a whole and the economy in general, including foreign currency balances and free access thereto including what I prefer to as the “confidence balance sheet of the country” were at their impressive peak.
We had, at the central bank stopped quasi-fiscal operations and, together with the Ministry of Finance and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we had bifurcated the RBZ balance sheet, cleaning it up and getting rid of legacy issues dating back to pre-Independence and pre-2000 years (US$310 million of US$1,3 billion taken over under the RBZ Debt Assumption Act) and laying the foundation for the clinical operation of monetary and fiscal policies as separate but complementary instruments of economic management. The rest of the US$1 billion taken over by government was a mere placement on the balance sheet of Treasury what it had ordered the central bank to do in the first place with explicit written instructions over the years 2000-2013, covering funding of fuel, maize, wheat, fertiliser, electricity and ancillary imports. So the state of the balance sheet was unquestionably clean and straightforward. The annual audit was also clean.
AK: You were at the helm of the RBZ when the country went through economic implosion, which seems to be repeating itself. Do you think you could have done things differently if you were still in charge?
GG: Hindsight is always a perfect sight, is it not? And the best players and goal scorers are spectators. I do not think anyone would walk the same road that led him or her to near-demise, would you? Pity we never learn from past mistakes. We never learn from our past, hence we continue to be inconsistent, unpredictable, arrogant, uninformed, unimaginative, too experimental, and very temperamental, know-it-all and throttle the goose that lays the golden egg.
All the mistakes and sins that I used to make are being repeated, hence the result shall be the same. The popular mantra during my time was “Gono must go … and when he goes, all the arrogance will go with him. All the inconsistency, quasi-fiscal and hyperinflation will disappear the moment Gono goes” … now, Gono has been quiet with his business troubles for seven years. Why are we experiencing hyperinflation, shortage of forex … quasi-fiscal activities?
The answer is that it is not about personalities, it is about the fundamentals of this economy, which are significantly tied to its politics of self-destruction. We are all witnesses to the futility of trying to turn around our economy in an environment of pointless conflict. Until we learn to put Zimbabwe first and above self, we will continue to be doomed. You can put 10 more governors tomorrow, the economy will not change until our politics changes to greater tolerance and appreciation of each other as well as our diversity in thinking, acting, speaking out.
AK: What is your view about re-dollarisation and perhaps adoption of the rand as our base currency?
GG: At the risk of undermining my former colleagues at the Ministry of Finance and my successor at the RBZ, which is not my intention, I believe that they have chosen the way or direction that this economy ought to take and that is what the economy is taking but I wish they could have waited a little bit until we had built sufficient reserves to support, like they had said before, three to six months import cover. There are less painful ways they could have employed to build up those reserves and hopefully one day we shall have that debate.
Currently, the local unit is taking a real battering akin to my days at the apex bank and there is nothing the authorities can do about a market that has made up its mind to reject a particular currency.
As for adopting the rand, it will not happen. We held those discussions way back in 2005/06 with current South African Minister of Finance when he was the SARB (South African Reserve Bank) governor. There are certain fundamental preconditions that ought to be fulfilled on both sides of the Limpopo River before such an eventuality takes place. Those preconditions were laid out to us very unambiguously and as things stand, we are quite a distance away from the nearest corner that would allow our whispers and loudest voices to be heard.
AK: Regarding the controversial issue of farm mechanisation, which has dominated the media for the past three weeks, did you personally benefit from it? President Mnangagwa is cited in Magaisa’s report as a beneficiary of the scheme, so did a Sekuru Mombeshora and a Sekuru Nyabadza. What was the criteria in selecting beneficiaries?
GG: I honestly consider the whole issue as a storm in a teacup, as this and other government programmes were always public events at which a definite and specific criteria was outlined in the addresses to the Nation and in the media as well as numerous RBZ publications. Trouble is that we are touted as a country with the highest literacy rate in Africa but we are the laziest when it comes to research and reading. Criteria number one was possession of a farm whether A1 or A2 or communal. Second criteria were your history of productivity as vouched by your Agritex Officer, GMB, or point of marketing and size of farm or piece of land as well as the agricultural region.
It did not matter if you were a chief, a grandmother or sekuru (grandfather), it did not matter whether you were a priest, judge, journalist, politician, woman or man, short or tall. So long as you met the criteria, you qualified. Those sekurus were renowned farmers with farms in their names. Use of the term sekuru is simply out of respect: I am not sure if Dr Magaisa is negatively disposed to elders not his age.
I am now regarded as sekuru in my circles and clan but that does not disqualify me from owning property. That is why I say sometimes we fail to find better ways of killing and wasting time when in far-away places. Surely are we that forgetful of our traditional ways of according respect to our elders? So they must not be assisted to produce that which allows them to look after themselves, their health needs and school fees for grandchildren and child-headed dependents left behind by those departed or struggling to get jobs outside our borders?
My family, Gideon, Hellin, Passion (37), Pride (35), Praise (35), Gideon Jr (22) all paid for their farms when it was not fashionable to buy. Ours was a willing-buyer, willing-seller transaction, approved by the leadership of the country, then the late President RG (Robert Gabriel) Mugabe and current President Cde Mnangagwa. It was not a clandestine purchase, but a Barclays Bank-supported loan, which even had to go to London HQ for approval because of its huge size then (2001/2002) and we hold V11s (evidence) to that effect. None of us benefited from the RBZ mechanisation programme even though initially there were erroneous attempts to include us but the mistake was swiftly corrected on February 13, 2009. Any schedule that shows the Gono family as beneficiaries of farm mechanisation is sure a mischievous schedule
AK: In 2014, you came close to becoming a Zanu PF senator, but were prevented from doing so on a technicality. Are you still considering running for political office.
GG: That is almost seven years ago and in 2018 there were national elections that I did not participate in as a candidate. Nothing stops me from participating, and nothing forces me to participate either, in the national affairs of this country should I wish or am called upon to.
AK: Recently there were claims by some online publications linking you to one of the factions in Zanu PF, presumably led by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and that you were being prepared to take over as president of the country. What is your response to that?
GG: That is news to me. I hardly follow news these days as I am too busy so I cannot answer or comment on something I have not seen, read or heard about.
AK: What would be your recommendation to all current political players and their supporters going forward?
GG: The nature of our politics today demands, in my view, greater tolerance, cross-fertilisation of ideas of ideas from different corners of political and economic thought and inclusiveness. If I had my way into the ears of our politicians, as in 2008, I would recommend going the GNU way. We are too polarised for a winner-take-all type of approach. The black market exchange rate fell by almost 50% in September 2008 after signing the GNU agreement. With Covid-19 causing needless deaths every day, we should set aside our differences and invite as many hands as possible to the deck and even ask all Zimbabweans who want, to return home so we can fight this pandemic together. No electioneering for next 10 years as we rebuild our economy.
Dr Magaisa could be assigned the portfolio of Agricultural Mechanisation, Food Security and Rural Development full time while offering part online transparency and good governance lectures to all civil servants and private sector participants for free”.
But seriously, we ought to suspend elections till 2030 and rather focus on the economy and the survival of our people in a climate of peace, mutual respect, trust, good governance, tolerance of diversity, human, gender and property rights while deepening our international respectability and acceptance by the West, East, South and North. How we can achieve that is a matter of detail with failure not being an option.
We must in that period ban all manner and spectrum of violence, shun any acts, real or perceptions of abductions, harassments of citizens, abuses of office, violence or negative feelings against and fears of our law enforcement agencies and make them darlings of our people regardless of colour, creed or political affiliation, make it everyone’s job to create jobs for our youths, women, war vets, and the landless while creating an atmosphere of true healing and mutual forgiveness between and among us Zimbabweans.
There is so much we can do in 10 years before we decide to go back into the divisive competition for these political office again. Let’s pause and find and help each other. There is too much hatred, suspicion, abuses, gossip and negativity out there it’s not healthy!”