The First 100 Days

It is now just over 100 days since the elections on the 31st of July. Having secured their objective of total control of both Houses of Parliament, Zanu PF has made a slow start to getting their act together and perhaps it is time to review the situation in the country.

It took them a long time to form the Cabinet and when they did the most astonishing thing was that it was made up of all the old veterans who had held positions in previous administrations. If the newly elected Members of Parliament made any entry to Cabinet it was as a member of the second row of Deputies and many of these are useful technical types.

The much vaunted “Zim Asset” document, touted as the blueprint for the next five years and supposed to set out the agenda of the new government was a long time emerging and even now has not been formally launched. However it was made clear that this new document was being used in their efforts to get the process of government under way.

The draft of Zim Asset that I have seen is disappointing in that it does not give a clear road map of the intentions of Zanu PF. One senior Civil Servant told me that “at least it does no damage” and therefore must be welcomed. Given the dramatic and damaging switches in policy that we have seen so often in the past this at least is a welcome development. However it was to other sources that we had to turn to get an indication of just what they were up to.

In particular the new Minister of Finance was the first in the front line. The budget process was already three months behind schedule and within days of his appointment he left for two weeks of intense discussions and meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC. The list of things demanding his attention was long and all of it urgent. Revenues flowing into the Consolidated Revenue Fund had slipped to well below forecast and he was faced within days of the problem of how to pay salaries.

In the previous four years when Tendai Biti had been Minister, Biti had exhibited his considerable capacity for work and his own unique intellect and in the process had set up a system of management for the fiscus which left very little room for maneuver. We had to “eat what we killed” he once famously said and put the State onto a strictly controlled and managed cash basis.

Zanu PF fiscal delinquency over the previous 30 years had left Biti with a $13 billion pile of debt and 15 years of arrears in debt payments to creditors, there was no capacity to borrow to fill gaps in the cash flow and no one, not even the Chinese were interested in giving the country any assistance without tights strings attached. On top of that Biti had negotiated a “Staff Monitored Programme” (SMP) with the IMF and got it agreed by the Cabinet and, perhaps more importantly, signed by President Mugabe.

In effect the new Minister found himself zipped into a straight jacket that left very little room for discretion of change. His discussions in Washington went very well and his consistent message that the new government would respect the undertakings already given under the SMP and in previous exchanges with the multilaterals was well received, but his appeals for help to meet recurrent costs was met with a solid stone wall. Until we complied with the SMP over an extended period and demonstrated more than just verbal undertakings, the only available money would be political in character and these doors were closed to us by the failure of the GPA process.

He returned from Washington and walked straight into a storm. Undertakings to scrap balances owing to local authorities and parastatals such as ZESA, promises of wage increases for the Civil Service plunged the State and local authorities into a crisis as revenues collapsed and the Service demanded action. On top of this crisis the Banking sector, already burdened with non performing debt, slipped further into bankruptcy. 9 commercial banks were virtually insolvent and the Reserve Bank completely insolvent with liabilities of over $1,4 billion. In desperation he announced that he needed more time and that he might only present the next budget in January 2014.

In his first clear statement on policy he called for the State to observe 5 key issues as it tried to find a way forward:

1. Consistency of policy and message, especially on the issues of indigenisation and land tenure.

2. How to establish the capacity of the Reserve Bank and restore stability to the banking sector as a whole.

3. Implement the new blue print as set out in the yet to be disclosed Zim Asset programme.

4. Maintenance of the multi currency regime (US$).

5. Securitisation of the resources sector and in particular diamonds.

Since then there have been frantic moves behind the scenes to deal with various key issues – discussions with the Civil Service, debates on the future of Gideon Gono who retires from the Reserve Bank this month. Moderating the whole indigenisation issue and tentative feelers towards the Commercial Farmers Union on a possible deal for agriculture as the country once again faces a season in which agriculture will fail to deliver.

Their main problem is that no one trusts them and they have to move more openly and make firm commitments in public on many issues that they have previously vigorously denied or declared that they would never countenance. How does Zanu PF do a U turn on indigenisation or the role of white farmers in our crippled agricultural system; can they put the economy back on its feet if they do not do so – no one thinks that they can. So Ministers are stuck between a proverbial hard rock and the deep blue sea and most of them cannot swim.

Nothing reveals the hard realities that the new regime faces than the question of corruption. In his opening speech to the 8th Parliament the President had attacked corruption and promised that it would be dealt with. In subsequent speeches his faithful in both Houses have strongly endorsed his views, but the reality is that I cannot think of a single Minister (perhaps one and even he is questionable) that is not guilty of gross corruption. The harsh reality is that no single Zanu PF leader of any stature could stand up to an audit of their assets and sources of the income that supports their lavish lifestyles. This exercise would have to be extended to senior Civil Servants and many senior Army Officers and other members of the security services.

In days after they took power, I heard of new corrupt deals in key sectors by Ministers. If Zanu PF does not get on top of all of these issues they simply cannot deliver what they have promised or even need to do to survive. It’s a tall order and the first 100 days has shown that they are struggling to make the bar.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 17th November 2013