31 August 2018

Zimbabwe: Spotlight On Mnangagwa As Nation Awaits New Cabinet

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa faces a herculean task after his inauguration this week as he comes under intense scrutiny on whether he can walk the talk during the next five years of his leadership after the failings that characterised his previous stint in charge.

Mnangagwa starts his first full term after winning the disputed July 30 elections by 50,8% initially before it was whittled down to 50,67% by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

The election result was upheld by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) after MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa who garnered 44,3% of the vote approached the apex tribunal to set aside the outcome citing gross irregularities.

Mnangagwa promised in his inauguration speech on Sunday to, among other deliverables, uphold the constitution, turnaround the economy and fight corruption in what he called a "new Zimbabwe".

However, during his nine-month stint at the helm after the resignation of former president Robert Mugabe on the back of a soft coup in November last year, Mnangagwa has made a number of questionable decisions.

Despite having promised to uphold the constitution after taking office in November, Mnangagwa decided to place the civil service under the Office of the President and Cabinet. This was in violation of section 201 of the constitution which mandates him to appoint a minister of public service.

This was met with outrage by the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe.

"Putting civil servants under the Office of the President and Cabinet is a flagrant violation of sections 199, 200, 201, 202 and 203 of our national constitution," PTUZ said in a statement.

In another violation of the constitution, Mnangagwa assigned Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga the defence portfolio.

Britain-based constitutional lawyer Alex Magaisa pointed out in December the violation.

"This means, legally, there is currently no minister of Defence as required under Section 215 of the constitution, which is a constitutional violation," he said.

The boob in appointing excessive non-members of parliament into cabinet at the beginning of his previous presidential stint in contravention of the constitution resulted in Mnangagwa making amendments just over 24 hours later.

Like he did in his inauguration speech in November, he has promised to fight corruption. But his failure to be effective during the first spell means he will be under pressure to improve on that score.

The admission by deputy chief secretary in Mnangagwa's office Ray Ndhlukula that they had awarded a multi-million dollar contract to Chiwenga's wife Marry without going to tender within the first 55 days of Mnangagwa taking office last year was a damning indictment on his promise to eradicate corruption. The arrest of former energy minister Samuel Undenge has been widely seen as a settling scores. Undenge was a pivotal member of G4O, a grouping that had coalesced around former first lady Grace Mugabe which was against Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe as the country's leader.

Fiscal indiscipline has continued to be the bane of the country's economy even under Mnangagwa.

According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe's fiscal statistics for the first quarter of 2018, government had cumulative revenue collections of about US$1,2 billion, against total expenditure outlays of US$1,4 billion, resulting in a budget deficit of US$225,4 million. Liquidity constraints and fiscal indiscipline remain major obstacles to economic recovery.

Business consultant Simon Kayereka says stamping out corruption will be vital if Mnangagwa's first full term as President is to bear fruit.

"President Mnangagwa must root out corruption not only in word but in action. The current situation where petty corruption is being highlighted and grand corruption is ignored does not offer any hope that we are serious. The anti-graft crusade must also not be used to settle scores," Kayereka said. "The current level of government expenditure is unsustainable. At 120% according to Chinamasa, this is basically suicide. In order to live within our means, there is need to reduce the size of the cabinet to no more than 20."

He said while the fundamentals are not in place for the country to launch its own currency, there must be a timeline given for its introduction as the current situation is untenable and does not promote investment into the manufacturing sector.

"Why should an investor bring US$3 million into manufacturing and then sell his product in bond notes?" Kayereka queried.

He said Mnangagwa needs to assure investors that they will be paid their dividends and profits in a currency of their choice. He pointed out that there must a relook of government programmes such as command agriculture

"The responsibility of growing these sectors must be given to the banks and contractors. There will be issues of collateral which can be addressed. While command this and command that may be a good social exercise, it must have a lifetime and must be wound up sometime, lest it breeds a mentality of dependence," Kayereka noted.

Instilling confidence is critical if Mnangagwa is to resuscitate the economy, says Buy Zimbabwe executive, Oswell Binha, who is also a local leading economist.

"Zimbabwe is the country with the biggest informal sector of which about 65% are free riders, which is unacceptable," Binha said. "Confidence building measures are critical at this stage. By instilling confidence, jobs are created because investors will have confidence to come into the country. We need to have unquestionable levels of confidence. People need to be confident that they can bank their money without losing their savings."

Other issues Mnangagwa needs to tackle, Binha said, are corruption, trimming the civil service and eradicating uncontrolled government spending.

Institutional reforms will be vital to breathe life into the economy, according to another economist Prosper Chitambara.

"I think it is a huge task that awaits the president. We need to hit the ground running by implementing institutional reforms particularly around issues of state entities as well as addressing property rights in the agricultural sector," he said.

Chitambara said there is need for a lean and streamlined civil service as well as a smaller cabinet comprising knowledgeable individuals.

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