EDITORIAL COMMENT: Chinamasa must seize the moment

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Chinamasa must seize the moment

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Chinamasa must seize the moment

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Chinamasa must seize the moment | Herald (Opinion)

Minister Patrick Chinamasa

Minister Chinamasa

The new political administration, which has promised a new era, is clearly trying to change tact by shelving political talk and talking economics instead. Zimbabweans have endured political rhetoric for an inordinately long time and over the years, empty and unfulfilled promises have made many cynical of Government’s lofty promises.

All that Zimbabweans expect from the Government are “jobs, jobs, jobs” and an improvement in their livelihoods. They want cash from banks as and when they demand it and most importantly, they want hope and the promise of pursuing their own version of happiness.

It is, however, heartening that almost all the ministers that were interviewed after the swearing-in ceremony at State House on Monday were talking about reconfiguring the economy and putting it back on the rails.

Most fittingly, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Major-General Sibusiso Moyo, indicated that the country will henceforth be pursuing “economic” or “transactional” diplomacy, as the country is reset for growth.

But there is a huge difference between talking the talk and walking the talk, which has been Government’s handicap for a long time. Tomes of cobweb-covered economic blueprints remain unused in most Government departments due to inexplicable Government inertia.

But as the new administration tries to find its footing, perhaps the clearest sign yet that will show its commitment to get the economy out of the rut is the 2018 National Budget that will be announced tomorrow.

No doubt, the State’s outline of its income and expenditure patterns for the next 12 months will provide a rare glimpse of how exactly they intend to accomplish the onerous task of mending the economy.

The challenge is daunting and the expectations are immense. Assuming that next year’s Budget will be the same as last year at $4 billion — roughly $3 billion less than Zambia’s 2018 budget — this will leave Government without the necessary headroom and legroom to stimulate growth.

Since President Mnangagwa has already indicated that Government’s economic policy will be premised on agriculture, it therefore has to put its money where its mouth is. While the African Union’s 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security recommends that 10 percent of budget allocations should go towards agriculture, Zimbabwe has been struggling to meet this threshold.

In fact, in 2016, Zimbabwe only managed 3,7 percent ($173 million), but last year it rose to 7,1 percent ($292 million) mainly due to allocations made through the Presidential Input Support Scheme and Command Agriculture. And the results have been quite telling.

Apart from increasing maize output by 100 percent, the increased resource allocation to agriculture has also improved yields from less than 0,44 tonnes per hectare to more than 1,2 tonnes per hectare in 2017. So, it is curious how much Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa will reserve for this sector.

Increasing agricultural production not only improves food security and provides raw materials for predominantly agro-based industries, but it also has a material impact on the nation’s purse.

This year, owing to a bountiful maize harvest, the country is expected to save more than $200 million — being the money traditionally used to cover maize imports — which can be allocated to other priority areas. More or less the same amount can be saved if Government makes targeted interventions to increase soya beans production.

However, Government, which is obviously cash strapped, also needs to rope in the private sector in order to achieve the targeted outcomes. It is heartening that the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) is already exploring this path and with demonstrable benefits as well.

Likewise, it will be interesting to find out how Treasury intends to restructure State-owned enterprises (SOEs) and pep-up local authorities, which have the impact to improve the livelihoods of ordinary Zimbabweans.

These two critical constituencies do not have to wait for Government support, but they also have to scout for funds on domestic financial markets. But this is only possible if they put their shambolic financial books in order and guarantee investors a sound plan to recoup their investments.

Obviously, this has connotations on the governance frameworks of SOEs and local authorities, which the Local Corporate Governance Bill needs to remedy. The Office of the President and Cabinet has done the hard work to draft various legislation designed to give legal underpinning to ease of doing reforms. The challenge is now on the new Cabinet to invest the energy and willpower that is needed to meet the cravings of an expectant population.