Source: Confidence building: Missing link in bond notes discourse | The Financial Gazette November 17, 2016
By Knowledge Kadzura
WE disagree on a lot as Zimbabweans, to the extent that we may even disagree about what we actually disagree on.
One thing that seems to permeate all such disagreements and their magnitude is the fact that these are unprecedented times in the history of the nation. Undoubtedly what shapes discourse over several spheres stems from the various phases of experiences and challenges we have gone through as a nation.
At a different level, there seems to be no disagreement as to the undesirability of where we are economically and more importantly on our shared desire to return back to the good old days when we were the bread basket of the sub region, as well as being a shining example of a young blossoming democracy when the economy was firing from all cylinders.
It is this building back process and road map that I wish to bring light to since it is riddled with sharp controversy testing the limits of the ties that bind us together as a nation.
In the face of such dynamics whose consequences are quite enormous, focus and resources should be adequately deployed if we are to see the nation ride out the economic storm.
The country to this day, for the most part, has been employing solutions which are largely reactive to developments both on the domestic and international spheres. This has seen us move from one short-term solution to another.
These solutions are largely uncoordinated and in many ways reflect a disfunctionality emanating from structural gridlocks imposed by the nature of the country’s politics. The resultant environment from such short-term solution fails to encapsulate the fact that our position today resulted from many interacting factors.
Bond notes somewhat fall into the same category of short-term solutions mainly to arrest the cash crises, but the structuring around them is more forward looking as it attempts to champion the underlying issues to our myriad economic problems such as a thinning exports base. This is a streak of light coming through the current darkness that surrounds us.
The debate around the soon-to-be introduced bond notes is somewhat reminiscent of the rhetoric around foreign direct investments (FDIs) and the dire need for it in our economy. We largely agree on it, but lack fortitude to recreate and reposition ourselves as a safe and attractive destination for FDIs because of our differences and disagreements.
These are the tenets of FDI attraction that we should re-engineer and restructure the economy around, given the already stiff competition for FDIs with countries as industrialised as Germany and many other still putting significant amount of energy and ingenuity to compete for it.
Former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, in his previous capacity as Chancellor of the Exchequer, is well-known for his light touch approach to business in a bid to make London the trading harbour for Europe and the world competing against such powerful players as New York.
FDI is essentially a measure of confidence foreigners have on any local economy which brings us to one key question all of us must answer both as individuals and as a nation.
It is not possible for foreigners and foreign institutional money to flow into an environment that celebrates distrust among its citizens; as well as into an environment where evidently people invest more in what divides them that what brings them together more importantly the very thing they share in common, which is their country.
This ongoing debate around bond notes is especially crucial, but often very emotive and rightfully occupying the centre stage in our discourse.
Coverage of the issue on both print and electronic media is doing very little to ally the public’s concerns and fears, much less to articulate pertinent detail to justify their need at this point in time. The media itself is partisan and being perceived as the same which then predetermines the structure of how issues are disseminated for public consumption. The narrative around bond notes as well as other important issues fall prey to this unfortunate and often unforgiving environment built over years of hardship.
These partisan parameters, within which the national agenda is communicated to the generality of the public by the media, are brutal mostly to the proponents of good, well thought out plans for the country. The parameters do not have to conform to reason or objectivity, but are played to people’s fears. Most people in our beloved nation are still scared of the Zimbabwe dollar era and by extension the thinking largely prevalent during the same era. The governor of the Reserve Bank rightfully called it the “dealer mentality”.
In his attempt to demystify the fear mantra around the introduction of bond notes, the governor is seen by many critics as attempting to divert attention from the bond notes. What is true is that people don’t want to be reminded of that era or have its horrors replayed or relieved before them? It was an era which transformed the face of our nation and worse still the character of the nation in ways unimaginable. Shops were left bare without goods on shelves; inflation which in many ways still define us on global scales, was left to run amok. It was indeed one man for himself and God for us all affair as the worst excess of capitalism was at play. If you lacked the agility, and many time youthful energy to run around and grab a better deal you were doomed.
The fundamental values we used to hold dear simply couldn’t pass the test of time. Society, as we knew it, had changed signalling the need for new thinking if we had to protect our way of life.
However, big our disagreements on the bond notes may be, we shouldn’t miss the bigger picture being enforced on us by the changing times.
It is the content of such debates that if properly scrutinised and analysed will point to the lacking key issues that we must awaken to; whose incorporation in the national agenda will complete the engineering that naturally reorders society to a more fulfilling path in terms of creation of new jobs and the right kind of jobs, competitiveness of the economy in the global markets and robustness, something for which we all agree has been elusive for quite some time now.
This is the very essence of a democracy which is predicated on conversation, people talking to each other. Such conversation should be encouraged to be sharp and candid as the only way to subject every idea to a rigorous process that brings out the best without stifling ideation, a key component of the development agenda the world over.
The energy demonstrated by how the nation is engaged on the bond notes issue should speak to the pertinence of people’s medium of exchange as generally reflective of the spirit of the nation which should be uninhibited as opposed to playing to the people`s fears.
The confidence generated from the engagement process on the subject matter right to its fruition makes it easy to translate it into behaviour around the notes once introduced. This, coupled with engineering, leaves nothing to imagination by monetary authorities. This will get the nation focused on the issues and more importantly build the trust that spurs the national agenda to bring ourselves back from adversity and stagnation. Such work is not as easy as it is articulated here.
The RBZ therefore needs a clear unbiased path of engagement at various levels. On one level it needs to engage in an organic fashion with how people it serves, while at the same time communicating its position to government, its shareholder.
The next key question is to do with what exactly the confidence building efforts would entail. There is no doubt that behaviour change is at the core of such efforts.
Behavioural issues constitute a significant proportion of management science, however vast this important field is, I shall limit myself to the simple fact that much of the behaviour we are witnessing across the board was and is influenced by certain factors. It is therefore critical to incorporate certain aspects in decision making for the sole purpose of influencing behaviour, to not only counteract the negative behaviour, but to engender new behaviour consistent with our national goals.
The issues articulated here need to be housed under a taskforce, an issue I strongly challenge the governor to enforce.
However there are areas on the same subject we may not necessarily agree on and one key area is on the mandate of such a taskforce. The mandate should be broadened to cover not only oversight issues on bond notes, but key related aspects or another way to look at it is while the taskforce focuses on bond notes, they should draw from all related aspects and more importantly how that process which we agree to be short-term actually fits into our overall objectives.
The governor rightly pointed out that the issue is about the economy. The taskforce should quickly face the uphill battle of building credibility on various levels to build momentum to drive its agenda.
As I pointed out earlier, there is a certain level of disfunctionality on many levels and it will be interesting to know how such a task force would negotiate its way around it. However broad the scope, such a task force draws from, I recommend that its thinking must be derived from ecosystem thinking, which is built on inter-relationships among economic agents across the economy as opposed to the currently prevailing uncoordinated, fragmented sectoral approach.
One of the biggest enemies to confidence is pieces of information put out in the public domain without perspective, which do not pass credibility tests reminiscent of a democratic society both in terms of content and in the process making it susceptible for manipulation to serve ulterior goals. So in essence the taskforce must capture the environment they are to operate in. One key apparatus available is knowledge economy, such as information gathering tools like call centres.
One other key area is the composition of such a board. Given the enormous responsibility as partly articulated here, requiring unparalleled ingenuity, it is therefore pertinent that the taskforce be comprised of free thinkers. Its members must be equipped with the necessary gumption to negotiate and bring to closure key issue among many contradictions that face our economies and carrying enormous favour from the generality of Zimbabwean.
The task of bringing a nation back from adversity is never easy, but the responsibility of all. However, without building up the confidence institution, the task will remain elusive despite the many good programmes we put out there.