Monday, March 14, 2011

Zimbabwe investment conference allays fears

By Southern Times Writer 14-03-2011 E-mail this article to a friend

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Harare - THE Zimbabwe Investment Conference held in Harare last week helped dispel misconceptions that foreign investors had about Zimbabwe, with strong emphasis on the need for the country to effectively communicate its policies to attract foreign direct investment.

At the end of the conference delegates felt progress had been made in correcting misconceptions and in highlighting main issues of concern to investors.

The meeting established indigenisation, political developments and policy predictability as major concerns investors wanted a clear position on. The conference was co-hosted by Euromoney Conferences and the Government of Zimbabwe.

The two-day event, which ended in Harare on Wednesday, was attended by over 300 local and foreign delegates, demonstrating the level of investor interest in Zimbabwe as a leading emerging market in Africa.

German Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Albrecht Conze said the conference managed to clarify issues that had been of concern over the past year.

He said the issue that raised most misconceptions was centered on indigenisation and economic empowerment.

European investors and their media perceived the indigenisation drive as an initiative which could result in the incarceration of non-compliant firms.

The conference has gone a long way in clarifying issues that were of concern that have been around for a year now. It has been over a year since regulations on implementing indigenisation were gazetted and I can tell you on very blunt terms how they were received by foreign investors.

'You don't give us 51 percent otherwise you go to jail! That was the message that was not intended, but otherwise arrived at. But I think everybody has come a long way now. Thirteen (sectoral) committees were set up and are now due to present their results to the Government.

He said the Government should articulate its position well and indicate that in special cases, such as in the Essar-Zisco deal, it was ready to negotiate.

Ambassador Conze said issues such as community ownership schemes, empowerment credits and sovereign wealth fund that were not part of the original indigenisation regulations needed to be explained.

'I think the Government is now able to present its position much better, but they must also communicate to the foreign investor what it is and only then can someone like me tell German investors the conditions and risks.

'I will be able to say in spite of these risks you can be able to come and invest. I need to be enabled together with my European colleagues as well to propose Zimbabwe as a foreign investment destination,' he said.

He said Zimbabwe had been out of the African investment context for a decade and needed to put special effort to rebuild the lost investor confidence.

'That is why Zimbabwe has special obligation to show to the outside world that conditions are now ripe for investment,' said Ambassador Conze.

Dwelling more on empowerment as opposed to indigenisation would help the country achieve much, he said.
Europe reportedly already had a position on how they felt the country could deal with its US$7,1 billion debt to the Paris Club lenders.

Commenting on the same issue Euromoney Conferences director Mr Christopher Garnet said the event had succeeded in achieving its objective.

'The two principal things that Zimbabwe needed to take away from this conference are the need to address the question of the debt, that is, negotiate together and restructure together. Secondly, it needed to be transparent with local and international investors and ensure certainty,' he said.

He added the Government needed to ensure clarity on the indigenisation law, equal treatment in application of the equity law and ensure that its laws and policies were consistent and predictable.

'Investors hate unpredictability,' he said.

Mr Garnet said there was misunderstanding on what had been achieved in Zimbabwe in terms regenerating the economy considering certain media houses in Britain were still talking about hyperinflation in Zimbabwe.

These sentiments were shared by Lord Paul Boateng, non-executive director of Aegis Advisory, a global risk management and mitigation firm and former British Member of Parliament and Minister of Health and Social Services.

He said there were a lot of negative information on Zimbabwe among investors, which formed misconceptions that needed to be corrected urgently.

'It is these misconceptions, formed due to lack of correct information, that we need to get out there and correct,' said the Aegis Advisory non-executive director.

Invictus Investment Management managing director Mr Ritesh Anand said Zimbabwe needed to create investor-friendly conditions to attract foreign investment.

There was need for practical action to create the right conditions as touting about potential things such as good climate were not good enough.

'Zimbabwe has tremendous potential. It has potential to become a US$100 billion economy, but do the investors feel confident?' said Mr Anand.

In interjection, Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere said some of the investors' concerns were unfounded, considering Zimbabwe was probably one of the safest investment destinations on the African continent.

'If you are investing in a country where the people do not articulate their needs then that country is not the right place for investment,' he said.

Indigenisation and economic empowerment regulations compel foreign firms with a net asset value of above US$500 000 to sell at least 51 percent to locals.

Minister Kasukuwere explained that all empowerment transactions would be carried on a commercial basis where the equity value would be fully paid for.

He stressed that the EU and the US needed to lift their economic embargo which was suffocating business..

Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Minister Tapiwa Mashakada said Zimbabwe was ready for FDI and would abide by international rules to build a genuinely free market and modern economy.

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