OPEN ECONOMY: Politicians sitting on economic issues

Backtrack a few months, those who closely follow the media landscape will recall. There was a bit of frenzy over what a leading newspaper had labelled a “climb down” by Government on its indigenisation stance.

Many articles were immediately written in response by other newspapers to stress that in fact, it was actually a “climb up” on our indigenisation efforts.

Subsequently, many with the responsibility of leading national discourse felt that the difference between “up” and “down” was imperative enough to fuel intense debate. Debate, however, not on the actual details of amending indigenisation laws, but on the political implications of a perceived change in stance.

Political perception became the emphasis; somewhere on the wayside lay the actual indigenisation law. As it often goes in Zimbabwe, we become focused on politicised conversation with little in terms of economic substance.

That is the last time we heard on any efforts with regards to indigenisation; a law that has been holding up the economy for a prolonged period of time now. But I suppose that is what happens. When an agenda is politicised, the furthest it goes is to become a political stance; a declaration.

When that political stance achieves widespread public consensus, that agenda has in effect fulfilled its political necessity, but it loses its economic relevance.

Hence, it ends there, as it is proving to be the case with indigenisation.

But what about the implementation of the agenda; the particulars and technicalities? The expert and technocratic space where due diligence is supposed to be executed by astute professionals?

Well, as a society, we have not learnt to create this space.

In our highly politicised environment, we have only carved out a space for politicians in economic development. Consequently, many of our economic agendas such as indigenisation stall after securing public consensus. Afterwards politicians then sit on top of the economic issue.

We should start taking indigenisation beyond mere political relevance and begin to treat it with the due diligence it demands. We must start handling it with the proficiency necessary to tactically implement a legal framework that extracts the greatest return out of our resources for the benefit of the indigenous population.

That is the task at hand.

It requires business and technical acumen of an exceptional level; with the collaboration of shrewd legal practice. Minds that understand industrial supply chains, so as to identify where value lies in the operations of multi-national corporations.

Experts to conduct assessments on whether financial returns outweigh the informational value captured from having foreign firms in our market. Economic strategists who are able to identify which segments of multi-national companies are necessary to retain in Zimbabwe for our own long-term growth strategy.

These are the dynamics to be considered with regards to indigenisation. There are many assumptions to be tested.

Maybe securing long-term guaranteed purchase agreements of our commodities may prove to be more valuable to us than demanding controlling equity stakes in a given industry.

Is it not possible that construction of infrastructure could outweigh cash dividends from shares in companies which may not exist after 10 years of operations?

Do service industries that use minimal mineral resources as a means of production yet employ a substantial workforce deserve more lax legal demands?

These are all considerations relevant to our evaluation of indigenisation. Some require empirical evidence, others professional judgment.

Extremely technical stuff isn’t it all?

Nothing political here.

So why engage politicians to provide solutions to such issues? Is that not a mismatch of skills?

The scrutiny necessary to achieve our indigenisation and empowerment ideals require a very high level of economic and legal inclination.

I am not sure we are aware that by pursuing indigenisation, as Zimbabweans, we have made a global statement.

A statement that, at a minimum, we intend on managing our economy with the same level of economic aptitude as the Europeans, Asians or the Americans apply to their own economies.

That is the class of economic competition which we have dared to enter.

So, do we feel secure leaving our politically inclined legislators to lead that charge?

President Mugabe last week was stern with Parliament telling legislators to stop being lazy. With sentiments to plead our legislators case, many of our incumbents seem to be out of their depth on economic issues.

Are we not asking and expecting too much out of politicians? They could definitely use some help. This help may come if Zimbabweans become open to a cultural shift.

We need to start valuing our experts and technocrats. It is essential that we create room for their participation in the economic agenda.

Maybe that comes from us understanding that certain matters cannot be politicised beyond a certain point.

Once an agenda achieves public consent on the appreciated efforts of our politicians, enter the experts and professionals to implement.

We have not seen consistent progress reports by the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (Nieeb). They have not issued any consultation papers open to feedback, critique or input from experts, academics or stakeholders.

Thus, the indigenisation agenda is losing out on constructive analysis and helpful insights.

Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa must be credited for his efforts in engaging business, stakeholders and media when he pursues his policies.

Such an attitude should spread across the board in Government and society as well.

We have the knowledge in Zimbabwe. We just keep it at the periphery of economic development.

That is also the reason why we then end up outsourcing our economic thinking; whether it is in research or consultancy where we often engage foreign agencies or economic institutions.

Because our intellectual capital is not involved in issues of economic development, we are then disillusioned as a country into believing that we cannot control our own economic progress.

Let’s give ourselves a chance.

In terms of the economic agenda, Zimbabwe needs to go beyond political ethos and declarations.

We need to implement. And that cannot happen with politicians sitting on economic issues.

We should create space for expert and technocratic involvement. Without such a culture, our economy will continue to be weighed down.

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