When names mean nothing

Jan 03 2013 07:44
*Malcom Sharara
THE current Zimbabwean government is known by two names, as the government of national unity (GNU) and the global political agreement (GPA). Sadly though, these two names carry no meaning or value when one looks at what is happening on the ground.

A government of national unity is expected to be such and show some unity of purpose between the parties involved, something which is lacking in the current government. Likewise, a government of political agreement is also expected to show traits of agreement in whatever is at hand to move the country forward.

This is however not the case if one looks at how the parties that make up the Zimbabwean government related to each other, especially in 2012.

During this the year there was certainly no unity of purpose, with a huge political divide evident in whatever the parties tried to do. They seemed to have more disagreements than agreements, and in the process made a mockery of the name government of political agreement.

One would have expected parties in the GNU/GPA to put aside their political differences and put the country’s interests at heart. Sadly Zimbabweans across the political divide, investors and the like were left to lick their wounds as the politicians bickered over almost everything.

Some of the projects that suffered at the hands of the political parties carried so much weight for the country’s economic well-being that under normal circumstances, ministers should have been fired for scuttling such deals.

Take the Ziscosteel/Essar deal, which is still smarting from political bickering. It is sad to note that the deal to resuscitate operations at Ziscosteel is still to be implemented, more than a year after President Robert Mugabe officially launched the restart of the steel making company.

At the launch, Mugabe said: “The Zimbabwe-Essar deal is a clear-cut indicator that investments of the magnitude of US$750m send undeniable signals to the whole world that this country is not going back in its quest to be self-reliant, and be a proud competitive global player in industry and trade.”

Unfortunately, the only signal the deal has sent to the whole world is that investing in Zimbabwe under the GNU/GPA is as risky as giving the debt-ridden Greeks a loan and expecting them to pay back in time.

While Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube of the MDC-N was happy for the deal to go through, nothing has happened until now as the ministry of mines headed by minister Obert Mpofu (Zanu-PF) has refused to give iron ore mining rights to Essar, saying it was not consulted when the deal was struck.

Seriously, how a president can officially launch a project that fails to materialise more than a year later because a minister says it won't, shows just how deep-rooted the divisions in the government are.

As if that is not enough, the Chisumbanje ethanol fuel plant is now lying idle because ministers have failed to agree on certain modalities.

The plant, with a construction cost of about $600m, was given the go-ahead by Ncube but has since stalled after Energy Minister Elton Mangoma of the MDC-T said the operations - especially the mandatory blending of up to E-10 - was not above board.

Mangoma was quoted by online ZimEye.org as saying he is not against green fuel, but opposes mandatory blending. “It is like compelling people to buy The Herald,” said Mangoma, referring to the state-owned newspaper.

Whatever the reasons, this plant - which can produce 2.5 million litres of ethanol per month and can save the country at least $6m per month - is in limbo because parties can’t find common ground. More than 5 000 employees, earning a combined $1m per month, risk losing their newly-found source of income because of political bickering.

Efforts to get Mangoma to approve the deal have proved futile, as he wants all the finer details to be above board.

One would not begrudge Mangoma though because he was once arrested for flouting tender procedures, even though it was for a “national emergency”.

In March 2012 he was arrested on corruption charges relating to a botched $5m fuel deal. He was eventually acquitted by a high court judge over charges that he had authorised the purchase of five million litres of fuel without going to tender.

Justice Chinembiri Bhunu told the court it was common knowledge fuel was in short supply at the time, and the minister was therefore alleviating a national crisis.

Zim hurtles towards its own 'fiscal cliff'

There are many other events that have taken place where the inclusive government has failed to unite or agree. The constitution-making process is another issue that has stalled as parties continue to bicker over several points.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti (MDC-T) is at odds with Mines Minister Obert Mpofu (Zanu-PF) over diamond revenues. Biti argues that certain diamond mining companies, especially Anjin, have not remitted revenues to government since they started operating in the country.

Of course, Mpofu argues otherwise, saying all operations are above board with regards to submitting revenues to treasury.

Another battle is looming between Biti and Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere (Zanu-PF). The latter has vowed to put all foreign banks under the indigenisation hammer, something Biti with the support of Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, has vowed will never happen.

The indigenisation process as a whole is also under threat as the MDC-T has said it is not government policy and is being implemented the wrong way. This has of course given hope to some investors and foreign companies that the MDC-T might reverse the law when and if it comes into power.

Looking at all these developments, I don’t think any sane person would say the current government of national unity or political agreement must stay in power, unless he is benefiting from the status quo. In my opinion, the sooner elections take place the better for the majority. As long as Zimbabweans want economic recovery and growth, this GNU must go.

Yes, people are saying we need a new constitution first, but with the current delays in the constitution-making process we are likely to see another year pass by before anything is agreed on.

Worse still, we are likely to end up with another useless constitution that will be rewritten by whoever wins the elections. What I suggest is that the Southern African Development Community gives us a strong monitoring team or even peacekeepers, and let the elections be held now.

Another year with the GPA will send the whole nation towards its own “fiscal cliff”, one that will maybe be even more disastrous to Zimbabweans than the US fiscal cliff could have been to the Americans.

Investors will come only when they know the devil they are going to face, in contrast to the current situation where the devil has two different heads, each with its own ideology and way of thinking.

 - Fin24

*Malcom Sharara is Fin24's correspondent in Zimbabwe. Views expressed are his own.


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