By Rejoice Ngwenya| In any functional constitutional democracy that exalts noble principles of free market economy, there should be salient camaraderie of central government and private sector.
This is not about master-servant relationships but sustainable collaboration grounded on mutual respect and acknowledgement of each other’s strengths, weaknesses and competencies. Put in more appropriate liberal terms – the government concentrates on policy formulation, guidance and enforcement while private sector focuses on wealth creation.
In as much as we talk about separation of powers in constitutionalism and national governance, we should in fact talk about a similar relation between the State and Wealth Creators – separation of responsibilities. In other words, both parties exercise some sort of check and balances to ensure each fulfill their pre-defined roles.
This is the very reason why I am disappointed with the attitude of Zimbabwe Business towards what one can euphemistically refer to as the ‘crises of national governance in Zimbabwe’.There are eight key institutions that drive ‘business mentality and related predisposition’ in Zimbabwe.
Ordinarily, these are the institutions that should influence, moderate and impact national government behaviour at both the economic and political fronts. Any sign of weakness on their part, they give central government an advantageous head start in taking the country in the wrong direction. In other words, their weakness exposes them to bullying where central government always haves its way.
Here I am talking the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce *(ZNCC)*; the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry *(CZI)*; the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe *(BAZ)*; the Retailers Association of Zimbabwe *(RAZ)*; the Institute of Chartered Accountants Zimbabwe (ICAZ); Commercial Farmers Union *(CFU)*; Hotel and Restaurant Association of Zimbabwe *(HARAZ)* and the Chamber of Mines.
In reality, these eight institutions – and the consumer – are the determinants of market behaviour. When they are strong, they compel government to make them port of first call in any processes that define the country’s economic, political and social policy trajectory.
Governments do not consult weak institutions. If they do, they ignore their inputs, contemptuously. This is why it is important that when such institutions are given an opportunity to proffer advice, they must not exhibit any signs of holding back or appeasement.
In the past two or so years, President Emerson Mnangagwa has watched in awe as our country’s ‘indices of good living’ stampede in negative directions. Never mind the bravado in his politburo, State media and several public fora, everyone knows, feels and sees that quality of life of the average Zimbabwean has deteriorated exponentially.
Despite a bevy of high profile ‘presidential advisors’ and a repertoire of policy instruments, nothing seems to be changing or the better. There is no amount ‘growth rate’, ‘infrastructure development’ and ‘open business’ that makes sense when Zimbabweans remain in a state of abject poverty. So, then what are the eight key institutions mentioned above telling President Mnangagwa?
Every year, we are of course treated to an intoxicating menu of ‘reports’ and ‘surveys’, ‘position statements’ and ‘whitepapers’ from above mentioned business associations. Those in the know have a default position that President Mnangagwa ‘does not take kindly or listen to advice’.
This is subject to debate, however when you listen carefully to ‘presidents’ of business associations; or their executive directors, one gets a strong impression that they hesitate to tell President Mnangagwa the truth. Last week I was horrified when I – that is if I heard correctly – heard a high-ranking member of *ICAZ* quoted as saying that capacity utilization had increased, so is stability of the economy.
I have never heard *BAZ* blatantly criticizing John Mangudya’s fictitious foreign currency ‘auction’. Neither have I heard *CZI* explain clearly why our industry is struggling with competitive production and diminished capacity utilisation. The *ZNCC* remains ambivalent on the multi-currency situation while miners are still comfortable exporting raw ore.
We all know that our country’s currency system, tax regime and political instability are not conducive to tourism, but HARAZ fires ‘friendly fire’ when engaging Central Government. I have seen delegation after business delegation ‘visiting’ President Mnangagwa at State House, yet none of these business leaders say things that speak to truth, but rather waffle in order to remain in the President’s good favour.
No wonder ultimately, we suffer from a barrage of statutory ‘bans’ and ‘regulations’. If President Mnangagwa has personal advisors outside the sphere of business associations, they do not tell him the truth either. We know why Zimbabweans cannot save money in local currency.
We know why manufacturers are buying foreign currency from the parallel market and the impact it has on inflation. We know why investors and tourists are hesitant to come to Zimbabwe; and why infrastructure has collapsed. We know why the salaries of teachers, medical workers and public servants are eroded month by month.
We know that not all the diamonds and gold is accounted for. We know why thousands of university graduates are not employed and why millions of Zimbabweans are vendors. Do we not know why public hospitals suffer from acute shortages of drugs or why public roads are infested with potholes?
The million-dollar question is: have leaders of business associations told President Mnangagwa causes of these negative indexes and proffered lasting solutions? Listening to *ICAZ* and also comments at the recent Zimbabwe International Trade Fair – I have my doubts. I fact, it is abundantly clear why our country is in a state of surreal paralysis. I have a feeling business leaders fear that proffering an opinion that seems to run against the political grain of reality will be associated with ‘opposition’.
Moreover, business survives on the benevolence of ‘foreign currency allocation’ and ‘tax sympathy’ – thus its leadership is uncomfortable portraying itself as the voice of the ‘poor’. You may even discover that business associations will be quick to pour accolades on President Mnangagwa for his recent statement that attempts to stabilize the local currency.
Whether or not business was consulted – we will never know.
What a tragic shame!