The Sunday Mail
Chris Chenga Open Economy
Assume, dear reader, that as a business executive you were cordially invited to a business breakfast set for Monday morning at 8 am; or perhaps as a venturing entrepreneur, an invitation was extended to you to meet with a potential supplier at 3 pm tomorrow.
What is the probability of both these events commencing at the stated times, with all parties present 10 minutes in advance, prepared to engage?
Indeed, I am not suggesting a definite incapability by Zimbabweans to keep time.
However, it is not too ambitious to expect concession that tardiness and inefficiency have become commonplace in our business culture.
The scope of this tardiness extends from the informal trader on the street to formal executives in multi-story buildings.
According to Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory, each nation has typical traits in carrying out business.
For instance, in Germany, the same meeting set for 8 am on Monday is culturally interpreted as all parties must be present 10 minutes in advance, all courtesies extended, and when the clock hits 8, only business matters are exchanged.
If any party is absent, or for whatever reason late by five minutes, the meeting is formally postponed or cancelled with the onus of further engagement falling on the absent or late party.
This is standard, non-negotiable.
The example of Germany serves as a precise comparison as timeliness and clockwork reflect in a nation’s efficiency, of which in terms of productivity, Germany’s prowess is undeniable and clear for all to see.
Similar time emphasis is retained in many other countries with flourishing economies.
Can we imagine the standard of tardiness in Zimbabwe as tolerable in perhaps South Korea, China, Morocco, or India?
Granted, one can emphasise machinery, infrastructure, and other factors as drivers of a nation’s productivity efficiency, but it all begins with culture!
Comparatively, while we suffer from a wide variety of impeding factors such as machinery, capital, and infrastructure; is our business culture a pillar of which we can boast globally impressionable productivity efficiency at any level of capacity?
Zimbabwe has been using the United States dollar for a number of years now.
Many interpretations as to the pros and cons of functioning under such a currency regime have been proffered.
Unfortunately, we have hardly taken note that within a currency’s exchange rate is the factor of time efficiency.
Exchange rates are a measure of the relative productivity efficiency of an economy, thus by using the USD, we inherited a standard of productivity efficiency of one the most productively efficient economies in the world.
More simply, within the exchange rate of the USD is factored the amount of work done relative to that of other economies.
For instance, if we are losing out to imported products and services, it is not because those imports are cheaper.
That is inadequate analysis.
It means those imports are produced relatively faster than they are here.
Thus, when we discuss the years of current account deficit in Zimbabwe, let us ask ourselves how much work Zimbabweans have actually done in comparison to other economies linked to our value chains.
This context serves to draw us away from conventional currency reasoning that we often make at business conferences and in economic papers of an over-valued USD or its perceived storage value by surrounding nations of weaker currencies.
Of foremost importance is to concede that it is our economic perception of time, based on a culture of tardiness which has made a USD an overwhelming burden.
The USD is a currency that demands a certain standard of commitment to time efficiency and getting work done at a brisk pace.
Indeed, some readers may wonder why frequent comparison to seemingly distant nations such as South Korea and Morocco.
When Zimbabwe took to using the USD, we effectively chose to function with the global reserve currency!
The USD is not merely a medium of exchange, it is the global benchmark of work done on a product or service.
We placed our economy to a level of efficiency on a global scale.
Thus, we should evaluate even our business culture on a global benchmark as well.
Gross Domestic Product is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific period.
If we could factor in the amount of time in delayed meetings, service delivery or product manufacturing that takes place in Zimbabwe in a day, perhaps we could realise the GDP we lose out to tardiness in a year.
Understandably, micro-economic agents have no immediate imagination of how their pace affects the macro-economy, but if we informed ourselves on the business interdependence that exists in an economy, perhaps we would raise our time consciousness.
For instance, a simple delayed meeting means that committed parties likely intrude into a further scheduled transaction.
That may practically mean a delayed payment, a delayed service, or other instances of economic consequence.
Growing an economy is all about increasing interdependent economic activity.
Our tardiness then also factors in to explain Zimbabwe’s recurring liquidity shortfalls.
It is a result of slow circulation of money within interdependent economic activity, not necessarily that there is little liquidity in the economy.
Likewise, our tardiness factors into non-performing loans sagging the banking sector.
The adage that time is money is in fact literal!
As Zimbabweans, we often seek explanation of economic phenomena without reference to our fundamental societal deficiencies.
There is a striking culture of tardiness in Zimbabwe that the indigenous economic agent is perhaps not even aware of anymore.
We seek explanation for our economic circumstance in abstract economic theory or political interpretation.
A large part of our circumstance is, in fact, explained by how we conduct ourselves as an interdependent network of micro-economic agents.
We must get rid of this culture of tardiness in Zimbabwe.
It is much more harmful than we casually assume.