20 June 2014

Zimbabwe: Govt's Inertia Stalls Progress

editorial

REPORTS that thousands of hectares of farmland continue to lie derelict on Nuanetsi Ranch in the Mwenezi area, six years after businessman Billy Rautenbach's stillborn attempt to set up an ethanol-manufacturing plant in the area are as eloquent as they make for sad reading.

That run-down houses in various stages of construction together with canals and vandalised irrigation infrastructure are all that remains of Rautenbach's ethanol dream in Masvingo is a damning indictment on government's muddled and inconsistent policies blamed for repelling investors.

This comes hot on the heels of revelations that Green Fuel, a major joint ethanol project between Rautenbach and government, has lost 20 of its engineers and artisans to Sierra Leone which has set up a similar plant.

The effects of this brain drain on the project is unclear, but it has been dogged by political bickering, closures, concerns over compliance with the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act and controversy over legislation making petrol blending mandatory.

Government's inertia in the case of Nuanetsi Ranch is particularly galling considering that the land could have been used to inject much-needed funding into government's empty coffers and create thousands of jobs at a time the country's unemployment rate is quoted at over 80%.

Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ) Nuanetsi resident director Charles Madonko's comments to this paper put the devastating effects of government's lethargy into perspective.

"DTZ had offered, through Agriculture minister Joseph Made, that the need to resettle people can be achieved by designing the programme around the canal route to be constructed when drawing water from Tokwe-Murkosi," Madonko said. "At the technical level, both the investment and the resettlement of people could be achieved. However, effectively this matter became a subject of bickering among leaders and there was no concerted effort to address the technical issues of water and the illegal settlers so as to instil investor confidence. These factors combine to effectively undermine investor confidence. The investment blueprint was very relevant to the needs of our people, but the supervisory political environment was not."

Need we say more?

This sluggishness figured prominently at the Green Fuel project where it took years of haggling and several visits by government officials before the decision for the unpopular mandatory blending of fuel. The livelihoods of the Chisumbanje community of whom more than 4 000 are employed by the company were unnecessarily endangered.

Government's incompetence is also clearly shown in the way the US$750 million Essar-Zisco deal has been handled. NewZim Steel, officially opened by President Robert Mugabe in August 2011 amid pomp and fanfare, is still struggling for full consummation due to shifting of goalposts by government.

As for the Indigenisation Act, passed into law in 2007, Indigenisation minister Francis Nhema summed it up when he bemoaned there were "too many cooks" in the kitchen.

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