BY MELODY CHIKONO
LATE last year President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially launched the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (Zida), a one-stop investment services centre that brings various relevant agencies involved in the process of registering a new business. This week, senior business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) spoke to Zida chief executive officer Douglas Munatsi (DM) to understand the operations of this agency. Below are the excerpts from the interview:
MC: The issue of investment is key to any economy. Briefly take us through your mandate in relation to luring investments?
DM: Our mandate as Zida is to promote and facilitate both local and foreign investment in the country as stipulated by the Zida Act. Since my appointment, I have set up a strong and energetic administrative team and operationalised the One Stop Investment Service Centre (OSISC), which has been successfully done through the support of relevant government agencies. OSISC is a single cohesive entity that provides prompt, efficient, and transparent services to investors. Previously, investors had to endure a frustrating process of moving from one government department to the other but with OSISC everything is done under one roof in a seamless manner. The Zida Act itself addresses most of the concerns that investors had — issues to do with repatriation of funds, protection of investments, intellectual property rights and incentives among other issues.
Our mandate is therefore to unpack all these attractive changes to the investors, position Zimbabwe as the perfect investment destination and unlock investment into the country.
MC: What are some of the fundamentals you are working on to address investor flight?
DM: As alluded to earlier, we have set up OSISC to reduce bureaucracy and to ensure investors go through all the processes under one roof. In addition to that we are continuously working to improve the ease of doing business so that we maintain the momentum of improving our rankings on the global index. We are also very cognisant of our greatest stakeholders, the Zimbabwean people. We are very focused on the ease of doing business domestically, so we can invest among ourselves as well.
MC: Zimbabwe has been experiencing capital flight over the past years as far as issues to do with policy inconsistency are concerned? Does Zida have a say in ensuring alignment of policies that attract investments into Zimbabwe?
DM: As Zida, one of our key strategic pillars is advocacy. It is part of Zida’s mandate to ensure that there exists an enabling legislative environment to ensure promotion and facilitation of investments within Zimbabwe. Zida is strategically placed as the interface between government and the investor and as such plays a pivotal role in that regard.
MC: This issue has also led to lack of confidence when it comes to security of investment in Zimbabwe. How do you intend to make investors feel safe and restore confidence?
DM: Firstly, the Zida Act specially protects all licence holders from expropriation. The Act gives any investor freedom of investment, whether local or foreign. It is specific when it comes to non-discrimination, fair and equitable treatment and the ability to repatriate funds. Since the new dispensation assumed office, their position about Zimbabwe’s openness for business has been very clear and the steps that Cabinet has taken in this regard have also demonstrated this.
Further, we are working with international partners who are supporting us in increasing the confidence levels within investors. A recent example would be the investor confidence survey that we are currently undertaking through an independent survey company with the support of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank.
MC: Let’s talk about ease of doing business. Zimbabwe is one of those countries ranking low in terms of ease of doing business. What strides have you made towards improving this?
DM: Zimbabwe, through a lot of hard work done by the Office of the President and Cabinet, moved greatly on the ease of doing business ranking. We moved from as low as 171 to our current position of 140. We are coming from a low base and a lot of heavy lifting still has to be done but we are one of fastest improving countries.
We must not forget that it took Rwanda 10 years to get it right and we are aiming to leapfrog this growth by doing it right the first time. There is a lot of paddling happening below the waters and we will start to yield the results very soon. We are ranked among the top reformers and this points to the amount of work that has been put in.
MC: Are there any pieces of legislation that are likely to be changed to ensure smooth delivery of your mandate?
DM: The current Zida Act is an all-encompassing piece of legislation which is adequate to cater for the promotion, facilitation and protection of investment in Zimbabwe. I would encourage all citizens to have a look at it. It is available on our website: www.zidainvest.com
MC: What challenges are you likely to face in the short term?
DM: If truth be told, there are individuals who used to benefit from being middlemen and creating non-existent bottlenecks. These people will obviously frustrate the new set up so that they can continue benefiting. Let me reiterate that there is absolutely no need for a middleman, ours is an open-door policy and whoever wants to invest should engage us. We are a true one-stop shop and you can consult us for free.
MC: How capacitated are you to deliver on your mandate?
DM: Government, through the treasury, has really given us the kick-start that we needed to get off the ground and we appreciate this. Of course, more resources are needed to achieve the very audacious goal we have set ourselves and we will seek future avenues of becoming self-sustaining in the medium-to-long term.
MC: What’s your outlook in 2021?
DM: 2021 started off with a lockdown so it was very difficult for both local and international companies to operate. It also showed us where we need to invest more and pay attention to in our economy. We saw gaps in our ICT infrastructure as children were home-schooled. We also realised we needed some improvements in health delivery and the importance of e-commerce and logistics.
The year 2021 has not been all gloomy though, as we saw transformational policies and agreements being put into place. Exporters were given up to 100% retention of foreign currency for incremental production with other incentives, such as duty and taxes also being offered. We also saw Special Economic Zones taking centre stage as we expect Prospect Resources to start exporting Lithium as soon as July/August. We have also seen the designation of Victoria Falls as a City and Special Economic Zone and tenders have gone out for this concept city.
Again, the IFC is assisting in this game changing process. We also saw a huge change in policy on medicinal cannabis, which now allows anyone to own 100% of the project and can retain up to 100% of their foreign currency for four years if they fully process their products. The period also saw eight Public-Private Partnerships being approved by cabinet and the signing of an exploration agreement of oil and gas with Invictus Energy. All of this was achieved in the first half of the year, and is very encouraging. Unfortunately our Covid-19 cases have been increasing lately, but we hope they will start to decrease again as vaccinations increase and short term measures are being implemented by the Ministry of Health and Child care to curb new infections.
As we have witnessed an increase in the number of potential investors interested in different sectors of the economy, we have also witnessed a change in the policies that used to govern the production of medicinal cannabis in Zimbabwe and that has opened up the very lucrative industry for more players.
We also have rare minerals that Zimbabwe is endowed with that are attracting a lot of investors and this is an area that looks very promising. We are also positioning ourselves on the international arena as an investment promotion agency and it looks very promising. During the first six months of the year, a lot was achieved and we are confident that the remaining six months will see us achieving more. It is time for us to unearth the potential we have in our people (both local and diaspora) and our resource-rich nation.