Source: ‘Rampant price increases must end’ | The Herald September 21, 2019
State of the Nation
I address you this evening on three issues which have been exercising the mind of the Government. These are: (1) the ongoing industrial action by our medical staff; (2) the below-par water supply situation and sewer services in Harare and other towns and cities and; (3) prices of consumer goods which continue to rise against wage income erosion.
Government is aware of the economic pressures affecting our medical staff, alongside the generality of the country’s workforce and citizenry. To the extent possible, and consistent with our broader quest to stabilise the economy, Government continues to review and adjust the cost of living for all public servants, including our medical staff. This exercise, which is ongoing, is often constrained by a particularly meagre agricultural season we have experienced, and which has forced Government to redirect scarce resources towards drought mitigation through a massive grain importation programme. Our nation requires bridging grain of more than 800 000 tonnes to ensure food security in the country until the next harvest. All the same, Government continues to value and address the concerns of our care-givers, whose services are essential and life-saving.
While we are happy that a staffer at a local hospital who had been reported missing has now been found unharmed, Government is disturbed by the growing trend of politically motivated false abductions in the country which are calculated to put Government in negative light. Such political trickery, which in fact amounts to terrorism, will not take our country forward. The State has a responsibility to ensure protection and safety of all citizens. New measures might have to be formulated to deal with this new threat, and to severely punish those responsible for such subterfuges.
Equally, Government was not impressed at all by the way medical staff, as organised labour, responded to this political act of propaganda trickery. Reports on hand indicate innocent lives were gambled with, affected and even lost, as our medical staff who must provide an essential service, abandoned post in solidarity with the so-called missing staffer. While the “missing” person has been found, precious lives already harmed or lost are either permanently incapacitated or lost forever. It is very sad, indeed a poor reflection, on a profession of such standing, and on its commitment to the unique oath that binds it.
As we reflect on this sad turn of events, the least our medical staff can do now is to return to their work stations without any further delay, and to restore and resume vital services to all those in desperate need of them. The appropriate, professional response to reports of any missing persons should never take the form that endangers more lives, all of them innocent. Now is the time for our medical staff to retrieve their collective conscience and to restate their commitment to the very oath that makes their profession sacred. As I said, Government is looking at improving their working conditions, including revamping our entire health delivery services, through significant investments which are already evident. But the yearly cycle of labour instability and indiscipline in the medical sector must come to an end.
I am happy that Government has swiftly moved in to arrest the deteriorating water supply and level of sewer services in Harare. This intervention will extend to other towns and cities. In Harare alone, clean water production had declined from 450 million litres a day in March this year, to about 200 million litres a day since the beginning of this September. This precipitous fall in water supply, against soaring demand which is currently estimated at about 800 million litres a day, means many residents have been going without clean water at all, or making do with little and erratic supply of this precious liquid.
As if this is not bad enough, a number of new suburban settlements which have sprouted, are still to be connected to water and sewer reticulation systems. We thus run the risk of fresh outbreaks of water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid, more so against the raging drought situation we find ourselves in as a country.
The release yesterday of $37,3 million in local currency, and another US$2,2 million in foreign currency, as I directed, should stabilise the water and sewer reticulation systems in our capital. Central Government, through the relevant ministry, must immediately move in to support our municipal authorities, in order to bring the situation under control before the start of the rainy season. No effort should be spared in tackling this very dire and urgent matter.
Government continues to be concerned and exercised about the escalation in prices of basic commodities. While we concede that the new monetary measures and the drought may have contributed to the current price movements, we do not believe such movements are justified in all cases. We have observed with increasing concern a tendency within the business sector to randomly increase prices without reason or cause, except that of greedy profiteering. The whole situation becomes completely unjustified and untenable when only prices of basic commodities continue to escalate against static or even declining wages. Surely a generalised price escalation should and must have a bearing on wage levels in the economy?
We urge our business community to show leadership by taking business decisions which are professional, ethical and even compassionate. They must act in a manner consistent with the broader goal of economic recovery, tripartism and sustainable long-term macroeconomic stability.
Soon, I shall be calling for a meeting with the business community so we agree on clear ground rules which ensure fair play in the market. It is not the intention of Government to interfere with the operation of business. However, where clear failures and/or imperfections become evident and rampant in the market, the hand of Government will inevitably show. To avoid this, I urge our business community to demonstrate leadership, empathy and patriotism while recovery takes root.
As I address you tonight, the preliminary weather forecast is now out. We are likely to enjoy normal to above normal rains in the first three months of October, November and December of the season. Thereafter, from January, February up to march, the forecast points to a normal-to-below normal rainfall pattern. Our farmers should be guided by this so they plan to grow their crops within this forecast. As before, Government will support our farmers with inputs and other services in time. The goal is for speedy recovery so our country regains its food-secure status. In the meantime, I urge all our farmers, big and small, to put shoulder to wheel so we take full advantage of the early rains.
Later today, I shall be leaving for the United States of America where Zimbabwe will join other nations of the world at this year’s session of the United Nations General Assembly. For us, we have a particular interest in discussion around climate change and Sustainable Development Goals. Our country, alongside three others in our region, was this last March hit by a deadly cyclone which claimed many lives; which displaced many of our people, and damaged a lot of our infrastructure. We are still grappling with the after-effects of Cyclone Idai, as indeed we continue to reel from effects of a climate change-induced severe drought. Even though Zimbabwe’s contribution to emission of gases that damage our ozone layer is negligible, its exposure to climate change-related crises is horrendous. We thus have a direct interest in discussions and decisions which nations of the world take on this very matter blights our prospects and retard the attainment of SDGs.
Alongside Africa and the progressive world, we will continue to use the United Nations platform to speak against illegal sanctions imposed against our country by the West. As I leave for New York, Zimbabwe is heartened by the recent decision of SADC declaring 25th October as the Day of Action Against Illegal Sanctions. We in Zimbabwe, who are on the receiving end of these illegal sanctions, should speak the loudest, and campaign the hardest, against them.
May God continue to bless our nation.
I thank you.