Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A preliminary comment on the Agreement Between Zanu-PF and the two MDC divisions on resolving the challenges facing Zimbabwe

16 September 2008
John Robertson sent out the following concerning the agreement between ZANU-PF and the MDC. In my opinion the agreement was the only way out - no matter how flimsy it appears!

"As a first impression, the extremely cumbersome nature of the procedures to be adopted to bring about change seems likely to make the process very long and difficult. Although the promise of important improvements is evident in the wording, nothing in the document recognises the urgency of the measures needed to address the problems that are right now devastating the lives of millions of Zimbabweans.

Hopes that inflows of funding might be made possible by the power-sharing formula seem unlikely to be fulfilled beyond a few token gestures, simply because not much of the power is being shared.

The new government framework will ascribe executive authority to the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The President will chair the Cabinet and the Prime Minister will chair the Council of Ministers. This Council will consist of all the Cabinet Ministers, but as a body it will not have executive authority.

The Cabinet, under the President’s chairmanship, will exercise the important powers. These include the allocation of financial resources, the choice of policies and the preparation of legislation.

The Council of Ministers will assess the implementation of Cabinet decisions, assist with co-ordination, handle committee briefings and make, or consider, progress reports.

Accordingly, if donor countries, aid organisations, private investors, international banks or any of the Bretton Woods institutions were looking for evidence of a major shift away from the policy choices that have caused the most rapid peace-time economic decline recorded in modern history, they will not find it in this Agreement.

To bring that assessment into better focus, the document’s references to the land reform programme show that the Zanu (PF) interpretation of events completely dominates the agreement and the party has no intention of making any meaningful changes to the policies.

Far from identifying one of Zimbabwe’s most urgent needs, to get farming expertise back onto the land and to restore production volumes and values as quickly as possible, the Agreement reaffirms the reasoning behind the wilful destruction of Zimbabwe’s largest industrial sector, its largest source of foreign earnings, its most important employer and its food security.

Since the adoption of the land redistribution policies, most of the land has remained fallow, most of the food needed has had to be imported, most of the industrial activities depending on farmers for inputs or depending on farmers as customers have been in steady decline and most of government’s tax revenues have fallen to a fraction of their former levels. Yet the policies have been fiercely defended in the Agreement document, which we were all hoping would present the clear thinking needed to restore confidence and economic recovery.

Instead, the potential investors, lenders and aid donors will see that the Agreement, through its omissions, effectively articulates a refusal to address the origins of Zimbabwe’s economic decline and a denial that the ruling party’s policy choices were fundamentally flawed.

By injecting phrases such as colonial conquest and historical injustices, the authors of the Agreement have done nothing to reassure potential investors that their property rights will be respected. Claims in the document that the land acquisitions and redistribution policies are irreversible and that the responsibility for compensation to all those targeted for dispossession lay with the former colonial power will also cause dismay. Too many people know full well that a high percentage of the businesses destroyed were established on land bought after 1980, when Zimbabwe became independent, and that descendants of the original 1890 colonisers owned hardly any of the longer-established enterprises that were also destroyed.

Perhaps more to the point, the Agreement could have recognised that almost no Zimbabweans have felt any real benefit since the adoption of the land reform policies. The reasons are almost too many to list, but because of them, investment has virtually stopped, taking with it job creation in nearly every sector. As a result, training and career development prospects have disappeared for most people unless they were prepared to emigrate.

Food production has declined to a fraction of the country’s needs, but the money to pay for food imports has been beyond most people’s reach. Taxes have increased, but the quality of government services, specially in health and education, have fallen to disgraceful levels, while electricity, water, transport and communications services have also deteriorated.

Financial services have become erratic and inflation has so thoroughly destroyed savings that damage has been sustained in every economic sector, causing the loss of many livelihoods and forcing hardships onto millions of people. And everyone who has dared to criticise the clearly unpopular political leadership, whether as individuals or news media representatives, has placed themselves at risk of physical molestation or worse.

If these issues had been included in the Preamble in place of the tedious and largely dishonest expressions shown, their recognition by the parties to the Agreement might have helped rebuild some of the confidence needed to restore the hoped-for flows of aid, investment and support funding. What the providers of such sums will see when they study the Agreement is a tangle of bureaucratic trivia that can be certain to slow progress to a snail’s pace and to keep the incumbent authorities firmly in the seats of power.

In the early stages, we will – hopefully – see an end to political intimidation and the restoration of the destroyed opposition news media. We might even see the licensing of a few independent radio and TV stations.

The least amount of change will come from the removal of sanctions. This is simply because, until a few weeks ago when paper to print money was affected, all of the sanctions were against targeted individuals. In no way can we expect Zimbabwe’s economic situation to be improved by the restoration of senior Zimbabwean government officials’ rights to shop at Harrods. "

May I comment that people are affected by the sanctions - being an embargoed country anyone with external funds has dificulty in using them!

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