It would be easy to dwell on the hard week Nelson Chamisa has had.
His excursion to Britain was a rude-awakening and provided the world with an opportunity to see first-hand the naïve and empty posturing that Zimbabwe’s electorate has had to endure for some months now, and will have to bear with for a few more weeks until elections.
It would also be easy to take a dig at Joice Mujuru for that woeful interview on ZBC News this past week, which reminded us all why she has failed to make an impact on the political scene since she was expelled from Zanu-PF.
Again, it would be easy to talk about how the National Patriotic Front is wracked by schisms before it has even been launched.
But while all of that may be fun to jaw over, those really are amusing – perhaps tragicomic – sideshows.
The main show, thankfully, remains the economy.
Yes, we are at a politically pregnant moment, preparing for elections to put in office a President, legislators and local authority councilors. But in the midst of this political frenzy, we must never lose sight of one thing: we need to elect a leadership that can steer the economic ship through to 2023.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Government is determined to de-emphasise political gamesmanship and instead emphasise economic discourse and indeed economic activity.
In that sense, the economy remains on centre stage, with the juvenile frolicking of the politically naïve deservedly remaining a sideshow. With that in mind, Zimbabwe stands at an economics crossroads. We have four roads before us, likely more, but we will mention four for now.
There is the rigid Marxist-Socialist bent of the early years of Independence, which delivered a massive rollout in social development by way of education and health, but not much else.
There is the garbled free-marketeering of the 1990s that brought with it the social curses and private sector blessings of structural adjustment.
There is the political bureaucracy of the turn of the millennium that prioritised retention of power and in the process happened upon the virtues of economic empowerment.
And there is the gestating near proto-capitalism that promises private sector growth backed by a benevolent State as seen emerging from November 2017.
Each has its pros and cons, and with the benefit of hindsight, some more than others.
Our liberation war history and post-Independence policy pursuits have made us a nation that is politically averse to admitting to the advantages of capitalism.
Chris Chenga will tell you that, “Capitalism is good, especially if you carry socially-conscious elements with it.”
He will go on to say that the two – capitalism and social consciousness – should not in fact be separated, relying on Adam Smith’s conclusion that: “It is the entrepreneur’s duty to take care of society.”
By taking care of his/her business, the entrepreneur takes care of him/herself. And by so doing, society benefits by way of decent jobs, productivity, social services provided by tax dollars and the possibility of upward mobility.
Increased wealth, in socially-conscious capitalism, is a boon for all – or at least the overwhelming majority who are prepared to be economically active.
Unrestrained free marketism, though, is dangerous. History is littered with examples of how laissez-faire leads to Great Depressions.
Which is why Adam Smith cautions in “The Great Transformation” that: “To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings … would result in the demolition of society…
“Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighbourhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardised, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.”
Which is where the state is supposed to come in: to nurture, encourage and regulate capitalism with a steady and knowing hand.
Regulation and taxation are the prime ways in which states participate in their nations’ economies. Another major way is via state-owned enterprises and parastatals (SEPs). We have all, at one time or another, come across reports of how Zimbabwe’s SEPs contributed 40 percent of GDP in 2000 and how this declined to around 13 percent in the ensuing 17 years.
The effects of that decline are seen and felt in power and water cuts, poor services provision, increased costs of goods and services, high unemployment figures and generalised disenchantment with “the system”.
A thriving SEPs sector, as seen in China’s economic miracle of the last 30-odd years, is a key ingredient in the making of a middle-income economy, and thereafter a well-industrialised and well-diversified and prosperous economy. Friday’s gazetting of the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act, is a good first step in turning around our SEPs sector.
The Corporate Governance Unit created by the new law must strictly monitor and evaluate performance of State-owned enterprises and parastatals, and the men and women seconded to mind them.
Government must be ruthless when it comes to holding public officers accountable; board members must be selected on merit rather than patronage, and may the findings of auditors find expression in better business practices – and police action where necessary!
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