13 October 2017

Zimbabwe: Work Cut Out for Minister Chombo


We congratulate new Finance and Economic Development Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo for landing such a powerful position, central to the socio-economic development of this country. He now holds the country's purse and will obviously be expected to allocate resources strategically for the good of the economy.

He will also be expected to institute policies and programmes that will ensure he gathers enough to allocate to the various needs, demands and even wants in some instances. At the outset it is critical to state that it is not going to be as simple and as comfortable as a walk in a rose garden for Minister Chombo. This portfolio is never an easy one, previous incumbents can attest to this.

We will not spoil his celebrations for the appointment to this high profile office lest he chokes on the champagne,but it would be folly for him to drink to this and ignore completely that there is a lot that comes with the territory.

The economy is facing immense challenges that had largely not been anticipated when the year began, while those that were there have not faded, but have actually worsened in some instances. This demands that Minister Chombo hits the ground running. He has a lot of work to do and he has to do it fast. Without sounding too alarmist, but being merely realistic, Dr Chombo needs to take off his jacket, roll his sleeves and get down to serious business.

He has a few weeks if not days to craft the 2018 national Budget. Already some ground had been covered in terms of consultations, but he will need to move with haste to come up with a document of substance to take the economy to the next level. In this instance it is only befitting that we applaud former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa for the work he put in, over the years that he has been in this ministry.

He did a sterling job to steady the ship and keep it from sinking at a time when the waves of challenges threatened to subdue it. It was tough, but he managed to put an accent on controlling expenditure. He even became unpopular for it in some instances, but he remained vigilant. He also sought to engage the international community as a strategy to make the global village become more habitable for Zimbabwe.

Furthermore, together with Reserve bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya, they sourced funds and usually brought home something to salvage the situation. A lot of energy was expended in this regard. We will not over emphasise the importance of doing this in this economy. The market is starved of funds and the appetite is huge, so Minister Chombo will need to take off from where the previous minister, Patrick Chinamasa left off. We wish him well in his new portfolio.

The functions of the Minister of Finance include mobilising domestic and international financial resources through the negotiation and conclusion of loan agreements with private, bilateral and multilateral financial institutions as clearly stated in the terms of reference. He will also be expected to formulate fiscal strategies that include tax policies and others that support overall economic activity, investment and trade. This he does through national budget, reviews and other such programmes. Dr Chombo will be expected to review public procurement systems and procedures in liaison with the Office of the president and Cabinet, among other function that should put the economy in better stead.

We presume his superiors have briefed him already and that he is largely well-acclimatised to the modus operandi. Zimbabwe's economy is facing a myriad challenges that will need boldness and a sober mind to turn it for the better. The current cash challenges, huge budget deficit, huge debt, price increases and shortages in some instances will need Minister Chombo to address. He was dealing with the black market just a few days ago when he was still holding the Home Affairs brief, but it's an area that he will need to deal with it once and for all.

Obviously physically chasing away the illegal foreign currency traders will bring results, but we are expecting more lasting solutions that will ensure the formal market has enough money, so that the illegal market dies a natural and permanent death. It's a tough call and yet doable Cde Minister. The possible threat of imported inflation resulting from foreign currency shortages as some importers are acquiring it at a premium on the black market will need to be watched. Hyper-inflation is a term we will never want to hear of hence the need to nip any such pressures in the bud.

Car dealers, manufacturers and other importers say they are sourcing some of the foreign currency requirements on the parallel market and this is not good for the economy. We applaud Dr Mangudya for securing finance facilities with the Africa Export and Import Bank to ameliorate the situation. These efforts will need to be buttressed Cde Chombo. Current low levels of investor confidence will require that resources are allocated to infrastructure development and other ingredients that create fertile ground for both local and foreign investment. The ease of doing business will need persistent attention.

Inefficient State enterprises and parastatals will need to be resuscitated or buried as prescribed by President Mugabe. It's an issue in which we must begin to see action being taken against those that are beyond redemption while strategies are sought to bring to life those that still have a pulse. Issues surrounding the National Railways of Zimbabwe and Ziscosteel, the two enterprises that are now in the habit of churning both positive and negative developments at intervals, should be ironed out more effectively.

The generality of Zimbabweans, within and without our borders have expectations and aspirations, which are tied to Minister Chombo's delivery. He also must prove to his boss that indeed he was the rightful candidate for the post. Presidents globally have the prerogative to appoint cabinet and they appoint individuals they expect to deliver.

Results from budget consultations held so far indicate that bread and butter issues such as job creation and improved standards of living are what Zimbabweans are yearning for from Dr Chombo's 2018 budget, while firms expects affordable finance facilities to promote production and value addition.

Many expect the current capital budget allocations to rise from the current 16 percent to at least 25 percent -- the best practice thresholds -- to promote sustainable development and improve the standards of living for the populace.

We anticipate that Dr Chombo and his team will not be found wanting. The economy needs to get back on track. But we remain alive to the fact that no single person can impact a whole economy. Every part of the economy must work in harmony and in sync. Government, business and labour needs to work together. Such battles as the fight against corruption cannot be a one man band. The vice is one of the worst destructive forces in this economy. Large sums of money have been lost to corruption in its many forms or facets.

We all need to pull in one direction and ensure that we fend off present challenges. Any tangible progress is usually a result of team work and the economy is no different. So Cde Chombo, your work is cut out. All eyes are on you and we strongly believe you will not let the President and all of us down.

In God I Trust!


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