The cancer we must focus on

In the latest issue of Spectator magazine (October 28, 2017), Rod Little tackles the issue of treating children like they are made of glass.

Titled “Over-protective parents are making kids miserable — and fat”, Little posits that it is now fashionable for parents to mollycoddle children.

Citing a Unicef report which says British children are the unhappiest in the West, he goes on to say declining in-class performance, increased mental ill-health, higher suicide rates, reduced independent thought and stunted social skills among the young are all a result of the very middle class belief in pampering their offspring.

Little’s last paragraph reads: “The truth, I think, is that we know most of this intuitively. We want kids, but find them inconvenient to our lifestyles. And the cosseting of the children is a kind of over-compensation, because we know that really we are letting them down.”

Zimbabweans can relate.

The explosion in the number of high-priced private schools, right from ECD level, where girls are treated like princesses and boys like little gods is testament to this.

Yes, children are delicate and require protection, but a dose of the real world has not done anyone any harm through the millennia of human existence and social interaction. It is an analogy that can also be used when one thinks of the state of Zimbabwe’s parastatals and State-owned enterprises, how they operate as economic entities, and how Government treats them.

Most parastatals and State-owned enterprises are the little brats of the national economy: over-protected, inefficient, not primed to compete, and cosseted by a State that seems to think they will shatter at the merest contact with capitalism.

As we report in this week’s edition of The Sunday Mail Business, of Zimbabwe’s 107 parastatals and State-owned enterprises, 85 can be relied on to efficiently post losses. The Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda, says of the 93 parastatals and State-owned enterprises audited last year (whatever happened with the other 14 is anyone’s guess), 38 recorded combined losses of US$270 million. That is not all.

Dr Sibanda says of the 93 that were audited, 70 percent were “technically insolvent” or “illiquid”.

Executives at these parastatals drive fancy cars, travel in business class all over the world on “business”, go on paid annual holidays, and enjoy meeting at the famed 19th hole of golf clubs to sip expensive whiskey and bemoan how bad the economy is.

But we should not blame them.

They have been mollycoddled and swathed in the comfortable drapes of Government subsidies, a raft of protective laws and policies, and State fear of losing a foothold in the national economy. Our parastatals and State-owned enterprises do not compete because they do not have to. That is why their contribution to GDP has shrunk from 40 percent at the turn of the millennium to two percent today.

We are not saying the State should abandon these entities.

We are saying parents should not make children believe they will become well-rounded adults able to deal with situations without ever scraping a knee, burning a finger, failing a test, encountering a bully, or being turned down by a crush, among the dozens of other little things that make life what it is. Similarly, Government should allow parastatals and State-owned enterprises to face the rough and tumble of economic reality.

This will help shape them into innovative, resilient and productive economic citizens.

President Mugabe has said those that cannot compete should be “buried”.

Of course, even in the world of increased open markets, there is still a case to be made for the benevolent state. Some public entities are there to provide a service for the nation or a safety net for the vulnerable.

They are not profit-driven but that does not mean they should lack competitiveness and efficiency.

So what is required is a healthy blend of the benevolent state and aggressive, capitalistic competitiveness that drives both socio-economic growth and development.

No case can be made for inefficient monopolies. A monopoly that does not work is nothing more than an albatross around an economy’s neck, a vampire sucking the lifeblood out of a nation. There is need to conduct a thorough — and not endless — assessment of parastatals and State-owned enterprises to determine which ones should be retained and which ones should be privatised. Thereafter, a transparent and nationally beneficial process of part or complete privatisation must be undertaken.

The problem of inefficiency in public entities is one of the economic cancers we must focus on as a nation.

Not the none-sense that the Mubusos of this land would want to distract our national attention with.

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  • George Bush

    Thank you. Too much politics and too little economics in Zimbabwe