The failure of institutions – Eddie Cross

via The failure of institutions – Eddie Cross Nehanda Radio Apr 08, 2014 by Eddie Cross

Successful countries all over the world are built on strong institutions of all kinds. We often assume that the failure of the State in Zimbabwe is solely due to poor government policy and management. I do not think so – the malaise is much wider and involves many different local institutions, some with a proud tradition and record in the past.

The first of these failures are the many organisations that represent sectoral interests and are meant to act as lobbyists and protectors of the essential interests of the companies in the sectors they represent. The main ones are the Confederation of Industry (CZI), the Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), the Farmers Unions and the Chamber of Mines.

As an economist and then as the CEO of a major agribusiness enterprise I had to deal with the Farmers Unions – more specifically the Dairy Producers Association and the Cattle Producers Association – both part of the Commercial Farmers Union. Of all the institutions representing sectoral interests the CFU, in my own view, was the best managed, funded and led. They were a very powerful lobby and no one concerned with matters to do with the farming industry could ignore them. If they did it was at their peril.

After I left the agricultural industry in 1988 and then went into the private sector I joined CZI – rising to the position of Vice President before I left to join the political game in the MDC in 1999. Again I found that CZI, representing industry, was a powerful organisation – well led and managed although not on the scale of the CFU which was in a league of its own.

But all these institutions have become victims of the political culture and practices of Zanu PF, like the coils of a large python they have been gradually taken over by politically linked individuals and co-opted into the State system of patronage and loyalty to the ruling Party no matter what. As a result they no longer can represent the real interests of the companies in their sectors and instead have become just an extension of a corrupt and incompetent State system. In consequence they have failed and become dysfunctional.

The fate of the CFU was sealed when the State systematically began to dissemble the base of the whole industry – the commercial farm based on freehold title rights. Recently I have had a lot to do with the Chamber of Mines and have not been impressed – they fail to represent the interests of their companies and instead have become a club of senior managers (not owners) who look after their own as against their company’s interests.

They are often appointed because of their political connections and influence. This whole system tells investors that you can only survive if you pay your dues to powerful elites who are only concerned with power, influence and self interest.

Then there is the failure of the Trade Unions to truly represent their member’s interests. I have little doubt that one of the major benefits of independence in 1980 was the establishment of links to the global labour movement and in particular the ILO. Trade Unions in mainly Western Europe supported the labour movement in Zimbabwe, overcoming the negative influence of the State which both before and after independence had pursued policies that were designed to curb the influence of the Unions and limit collective bargaining.

In 1980 there were a handful of Unions, the largest of which was the Mineworkers Union, by 1997 there were over 60 Unions with a membership of 500 000. Only the Unions had the capacity by 2000 to take on the Zanu PF regime and they did so in the form of the MDC which rapidly emerged as the first serious threat to the Zanu PF grip on power.

So long as they did not threaten the State, the Unions were tolerated. Once they decided to take on the State in the interests of their members, they quickly became enemies of the State and the State began to systematically dismantle the structures of the Unions focusing in particular on the Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

Today the Unions are a shadow of what they were in 2000, battered by direct and indirect attacks and subversion and of course undermined by the collapse of the economy. When I was Chairman of the Industrial Employers Committee of CZI we dealt with 38 Unions and over 300 000 workers. I doubt if industry has 60 000 employees today.

The institutions that were created to facilitate dialogue and consensus and to assist the State with policy formulation have totally failed to achieve their stated goals. No one pays any attention to the Kadoma Declaration or the grand sounding Tripartite Negotiating Forum. This is no surprise given the failure of the institutions that are meant to be the constituting partners in the TNF.

Then there is the failure of institutions created to deal with specific issues – the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), the Tourism organisations (ZTA), the Trade Promotion Agency (Zimtrade).

NSSA had a gross income of $300 million in 2012, every formal sector employee is obliged by law to become a member and pay a set contribution to the Authority every month. NSSA was formed in 1987 and over the past 27 years it must have received no less than $8 billion in contributions. Of all that money only some $800 million remains – the rest squandered in bad investment decisions, patronage linked activities and theft.

The NSSA has failed totally in its stated role as the basic provider of social security. When I retired after paying into NSSA for almost all the 27 years of its existence, I did not even get an acknowledgement and receive nothing in the form of a pension. In any event what they do pay is so small that it’s hardly worth the effort.

As for Zimtrade – when last did you ever hear of that organisation? What on earth does it do? I was partly responsible for setting it up but like NSSA, we regret the decision and the organisation has become just another failed institution that absorbs resources and contributes little except jobs for the boys.

We need strong institutions that are independent and professional. Led by people who have their real interests at stake, owners rather than managers. They must be well managed and able to attract the best management that is available. They must fight for the interests of their members and industries and be feared and respected as lobby groups. This requires that the State itself allows this situation to emerge and for these institutions to take on a life of their own. It also requires that the State listens and acts on what these organisations say.

Eddie Cross is the MDC-T Bulawayo South MP and writes in his personal capacity



  • comment-avatar
    Nhaka 8 years ago

    Eddie, everything you’re moaning about is traceable to politics. Put simply, our politics has gone terribly wrong, on both sides of the fence. As for workers’ unions, you can’t have anything powerful when more than 80% of employbale citizens are roaming the streets. Maybe we should have a Flea Market Union & Juice Card Traders’ Union!!!

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      ShabbaRanks 8 years ago

      Mugabe and Zanu-PF are to blame. They have run the country for nearly two generations.

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    John Thomas 8 years ago

    Special interest groups are not institutions. They are specifically set up to to ensure that some people are better represented than others. That the rights of some are greater than others. This is what special interests is all about. The entire concept is anti democratic.

    The warvets special interest group seems to have done well. They are allied to the special interests that do not like honest elections who are allied to the white collar types who like to steal a lot.

    The judiciary is an actual institution. That has been very deeply penetrated by the special interest groups promoting criminality. We could say the same of the police, parliament, army and civil service too.

    No institution in the country has managed to maintain its integrity.

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      apolitical 8 years ago

      That is correct and it got a lot worse under the MDC ministers in the shared government a lesson for all – not one corruption case under MDC or any reported investigation by the MDC led anti corruption unit in 5 years – they just collected expenses and salary with no results and they wonder why they lost an election when people were paid to attend meetings and effectively vote supported by western funding. Quoted from observers who attended pre election meetings in the high density suburbs of Harare.
      unlike the journalist I posses evidence. But because they are not anti government propaganda – the propaganda press will not be interested because it could affect their propaganda salaries.

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        Hey apol. Isn’t it amazing how when we point fingers there are always a few point back at us. The rot set in way before the GNU. Way before. Check back to 2008 for a very painful example and should we remind you of the Zim currency that is no more

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          apolitical 8 years ago

          @NBS Perhaps it time to learn the lesson.
          As in Christianity let those without sin cast the first stone.
          In other words ensure MDC and innocent and clean before pointing at Zanu – even you know absolutely that MDC looted badly.

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    Nyoni 8 years ago

    Eddie haven’t we being saying that forever. Do these people listen to reason. I am a Zimbabwean first and foremost and dedicated to seeing the lives of all Zimbabweans improve. Are we given a hand by anyone even by this useless government. A BIG FAT NO.There is a big problem in our land and that problem is definitely ZANU. They must go.

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      Actually everything in this nation needs to be brutally dismantled and then reconstructed in a viable and workable way. We should all just refuse to pay NSSA and the like of NSSA. I am disgusted. ZPF should be hanging their heads in shame. If any decent person has caused even a fraction of this mess they would be crawling over a mile of broken glass to fix it. But not ZPF. They just keep banging away with their arrogance and lies and deceit. Judgment day will be a very interesting day. Who do they think they are fooling? They are playing with fire! They have destroyed their nation and slain their people.

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    itayi 8 years ago

    Well done Eddie. National institutions are ultimately the custodians of national values, principles and aspirations. Political parties can only but reflect these national values, albeit selectively. Authoritarian regimes target these national institutions, usurp them and render them totally incompetent. The task of the democratic movement is to reverse this usurpation through institutional reform. A constitutional process is but just the beginning of it.

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    Roving Ambassador 8 years ago

    The irony of it all,the only self serving institution which has survived is that one of thieves and pillagers, ZANU.
    As long as there is still anything to loot,they will be there.
    Let’s isolate these idiots.
    Avoid dealing with these looter when ever possible.
    Barbaric plunderers.

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      Zimbabwe must find its voice and its courage. May fear be struck down in Jesus name and may we have the wisdom to go forward and to know what to do. have you notice how Zimra, NSSA, NEC etc badger and threaten struggling companies for money. Just now there won’t be a company to badger and then I wonder how they will get paid. If I were president, a job I would never want, I would abolish just about every law, throw all the red tape into the fire and start afresh with a team of wise and godly consultants. Every thing in Zimbabwe is designed around greed, foolishness, selfishness and a total lack of wisdom with not a shred of common sense.

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    Harper 8 years ago

    Three years after Independence as institutions were becoming disfunctional a colleague used the phrase “white anted” to explain the cause. Very appropriate. In South Africa they call it “Cadre Deployment”, but it is the same thing.

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    Saddened 8 years ago

    I wholeheartedly agree with Eddie Cross as he echoes & broadens the words of Barack Obama that Africa needs strong institutions not ‘strong men’, which is of the the rule. I do however believe we also have a role to play in ensuring that these organisations do not become ineffective or collapse. When we don’t participate or speak out we give licence to the ‘politically tainted’ to undermine the institutions they claim to lead. We have been too quiet for too long!