Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Ostriches won’t fly, Mr President | The Financial Gazette September 28, 2017
AFTER weeks of simmering inflationary pressure, things finally boiled over last weekend. The steep price increases for some basic goods and frenzied hoarding witnessed in the capital provide an ominous foretaste of the convulsions awaiting this country unless government acts decisively on the economy.
However, given the predictable response by President Robert Mugabe and some of his officials to last weekend’s events, we hold out no hope that government understands, let alone wills, to take appropriate action. Instead of attending to the basic problems undermining production and economic confidence, Mugabe and his government have reverted to type; blaming everyone but themselves, issuing threats and arresting a cleric who dared to voice his concerns on the deteriorating situation.
Returning from his annual September visit to New York — with a reported 70-member retinue and $10 million later — Mugabe promised action over the recent spike in the prices of basic goods. Never one to accept responsibility when things go awry, Mugabe charged that the price increases were the result of acts of sabotage by his opponents — within and without his party — seeking to foment public discontent to precipitate the toppling of his government.
Mugabe’s sentiments chimed perfectly with an odd press statement issued by his Home Affairs Minister, Ignatius Chombo, over the weekend. “False media reports” claiming currency market chaos, Chombo said, had precipitated wide-spread panic buying of basic commodities due to their alleged shortage or skyrocketing prices.
Unless one lives the charmed life of an ostrich or a tax-subsidised public official who only frequently visits this country, last weekend’s events could not have come as a shock. The rest of Zimbabwe’s crisis-weary citizens know exactly when the rain started beating them. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, holders of an overwhelming mandate from the 2013 election, have scarcely paid any attention to the economy. Instead, they have expended all their energies and considerable resources on in-fighting and trying to settle, or stifle, the necessary question of 93-year old Mugabe’s succession.
Mugabe himself has spent the better part of his expiring term setting himself up for another one, which he hopes to start at the age of 94. What’s worse, Mugabe has undermined every effort aimed at reforms, particularly relating to promoting investment and restraining government expenditure. The country is where it is right now because of the ZANU-PF government’s profligacy.
The expansionary monetary policy pursued by government since the 2013 election, mostly to fund consumptive expenditure, has largely caused the current crisis. Government, and Mugabe in particular, has repeatedly scoffed at criticism of this unrestrained expenditure. Mugabe, who has just concluded a multi-million dollar nation-wide tour of eight provinces to drum up support for his nonplussing re-election bid, rarely talks about the economy.
When he does, it is in the baldest of terms. This is the root of our problems; an economically nescient government with a penchant to overspend. No amount of scapegoating, or burying heads in the sand, will fix these problems. It is way past time for government to take its responsibility to the people of Zimbabwe seriously and start taking practical steps to avert an economic crisis of 2007/8 proportions. We are not persuaded that this will be done in the “one day or two” that Mugabe has promised. Pigs will sooner fly. But what won’t fly is government’s ostrich mentality.