By Jim Matopo |The usual petty party wrangles and internecine battles seem to be continuing in Zimbabwe unabated, despite the rapidly approaching end of the present regime. This is how “Bob” has been able to stay in power for over 35 years despite a magnificent degree of economic mismanagement- by shrewdly manipulating the egos, quarrels and delusions of his opponents.
But the inevitable is now rapidly approaching. Bob is now increasingly senile, and even for Zimbabwe we cannot take seriously his wife’s proposal that he should continue to rule as a petrified mummy. So leaving aside the unedifying short-term in-fighting currently in progress, what are the best prospects for those who look forward to real long-term improvements? This is of particular importance for the large and influential diaspora community, which can at least look at the situation from a more objective and hopefully dispassionate view-point.
In the longer term the essential goal must surely be to avoid allowing Zimbabwe to relapse into the all too familiar African cycle of one avaricious elite being replaced by another, of one rapacious political “family” simply taking over the milking of the national cow from the outgoing bunch.
There is no easy solution to this problem, particularly as it involves a certain degree of objective altruism. But hopefully objective altruism MIGHT be available to elements of the diaspora who have been away from the frenzy of Harare politics long enough to think straight.
Some of the following ideas might be worth considering by this hypothetical group of straight-thinkers:
A) there has to be a fundamental re-constitution of the state and its institutions. The existing state structures, including police, judiciary and civil service have been so corrupted by the Mugabe regime that they are no longer remotely fit for purpose. This is not just a matter of writing a new constitution but a matter of re-establishing core state functions.
B) it can be suggested that the essential elements of such new state functions must be an independent, fair and just judicial system with corruption-free judges and court officials. This must be backed by an equally independent and fair police system to carry out the enforcement of fair laws. An army is NOT necessary in this situation; no-one is threatening the territorial integrity of the country and army officers who are not required to fight usually end up dabbling in politics. Furthermore, an army is expensive to recruit, equip and maintain, and one of the basic constraints on the new state will be the need to husband and prioritise resources to the maximum.
C) an essential corollary of the above will be a fair, coherent and enforceable system of law. This should not be too difficult to achieve as the country has a good background of basic English law which can be revised and simplified. A vital element will be to enforce rigorously the rights to private property which have been mutilated by the regime, and to extend them universally to peasant farmers, who will be the basis of the new society. A similar approach should be applied to commercial law- clarity, simplicity and enforceability- and the government should be excluded legally from interfering in commercial transactions. A possible implication of this is the need for an independent central bank, or at least for an automatic linking of currency management to an outside authority
D) a simple but fair system of taxation must be introduced to finance essential elements of government. This should involve a progressive but modest income tax with no exemptions (to avoid complicated interpretations and abuse) but with a high starting point so as to exclude the poor. A simple turnover tax should be applied to companies, and towns or townships should be allowed to tax for services including water and electricity. The implication here is for a small but effective independent auditor-general’s office.
E) the new system should be based from the start on an agreed percentage of foreign aid funding. This is only realistic and it will enable the government to set realistic rates of tax, disbursement etc. Foreign donors should be invited from the start to participate in a supervisory council that will maintain an overview on functioning of the system. This should be seen not as an unwelcome resurgence of “colonialism” but rather as a useful addition to the system of checks and balances needed to keep the system on track- think for example of the useful role of the European Commission in ensuring that countries like Greece or Portugal adhere to their good intentions. Foreign governments invited to participate in a transparent supervisory scheme will also probably be more willing to open their purse- strings, particularly if they see good results emerging from the system.
F) this proposed system does not enter into details of policy priorities or departmental expenditures; these are clearly matters for politicians to determine, within the overall budgetary envelope provided by the system. Clearly there has to be a trade-off between money spent on infrastructure, education and health. The underlying principle should be get value for money in each sector and to ensure that expenditures are governed by transparent tendering procedures overseen by a technical board and subject ultimately to the central supervisory council mentioned above. One of the items politicians will have to decide is the extent to which consumers must pay for services. Clearly there has to be a trade-off between helping the poorest and ensuring that the better-off pay for what they use.
H) finally it has to be pointed out that the core system outlined above, whatever its merits, cannot survive for long without what might be called a structural backbone. What is this? Essentially it is a method of recruitment and management to all echelons of the system via a fair, transparent and efficient mechanism.This mechanism could be called, for want of a better term, the Civil Service Department. This department MUST be independent of daily political interference, and therefore perhaps answerable only to the head of government or perhaps to the supervisory council. Its job would be to recruit, train and manage all civil servants, i.e. all those recruited to the core departments mentioned above. Recruitment would be by examination, with grades obviously determined according to the level of the job. Pay would be set centrally and could take account of regional or town/country variations. For all posts above a certain level, candidates would be required to declare all financial interests and would be forbidden from accepting undeclared non-salary income. Non- compliance would result in automatic dismissal, and corruption would be a criminal offence. A special unit in the police force mentioned above would be responsible for investigating complaints and the head of this force would be answerable to the head of the civil service
I) in recruiting to the civil service, the department would be obliged to use objective criteria only- no sexism, cronyism, tribalism- and all posts would be published. In cases where local expertise is objectively lacking (eg certain specialised posts in legal or accounting systems) the department would be allowed, even encouraged, to recruit from other African or international sources. Possibly preference might be considered for suitable candidates from the diaspora, but only under strictly defined and transparent conditions.
It will quickly be objected that the system outline above represents “elitism”, even “neo-colonialism”.Precisely. This is its objective. Zimbabwe and indeed Africa in general has suffered too much in the past from rampant dictatorship disguised under the heading of “mass democracy”. Look at the so-called democratic Republic of the Congo if you want one example. In seeking to rescue Zimbabwe from its current basket-case status, the aim must be to re-establish the core foundations of the state almost from scratch, and this implies a form of benevolent elitism such as that outlined above. If you want a successful example of this benevolent elitism (unfortunately all too rare) look at Rwanda.
Of course the system has to be capped by a political structure which ensures accountability and fairness, and this is the task which the country’s political class is all too eager to engage in. But the point being made here is that all the good political intentions in the world will lead nowhere unless they go hand in hand with a fundamental re-establishment of good governance. “Good governance” is a politically correct phrase much bandied about ever since the World Bank wrote its influential paper on the subject in 1999. Most programmes genuflect in some way towards good governance, and many governments have a minister responsible for “good governance” or “reconcilation” or something of that nature. These gestures are not worth a row of beans unless they are realistically accompanied by basic structural reforms of the type indicated above. As Zimbabwe now inevitably approaches a period of major change, this is surely the right moment for intelligent Zimbaweans, whether inside or outside the country, to reflect on how to escape the depressingly downward spiral of so many African regime changes.