11 September 2018

Zimbabwe Finance Minister: Reviving Economy is 'Herculean' Task

Photo: Columbus Mavhunga/VOA
President Emmerson Mnangagwa (right) talks to Zimbabwe’s new Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube at the State House in Harare.

Zimbabwe’s new finance minister has described his task of reviving the country’s moribund economy as extraordinarily difficult, but he is hopeful of success.

“It's enormous, it is Herculean. I am very energetic and I am very up to the task. I am starting now, but in the process what I will do is listen,” said Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, a former chief economist and vice president of the African Development Bank.

He spoke to VOA at the State House after being sworn into office Monday by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Nearby, 21-year-old Isaac Madyira is jobless. He dropped out of school seven years ago after his also parents, also unemployed, failed to pay the fees. He now sells cash, which has been in acute short supply for the past two years in Zimbabwe. He says he expects change from the new Cabinet Mnangagwa put into office Monday.

“What we want is corruption to be get rid of. We want development as quickly as possible. I think [on] the issue of money, we need our own currency which is valued as compared to other currencies, then bond notes must go [the last two words in Shona],” he said.

Zimbabwe started printing bond notes about two years ago to ease cash shortages. They were supposed to trade at par with the U.S. dollar, but on the black market the notes are worth about half as much as a dollar and cash shortages have not ended.

Almost as if Ncube had talked to Madyira, the new finance minister said he has to address the currency issue for Zimbabwe’s economy to get back on track.

“Restoring confidence in the economy, I make sure that international investors are interested in the Zimbabwean economy again," said Ncube. "I will be rolling [out] a plan on the arrears clearance and the whole debt restructuring process, coupled with that is building credit lines globally. Internally I make that on the expenditure side we live within or means or move towards that. We need to strengthen our tax collection systems. Ultimately we need to have the Zimbabwe dollar that is stable, that people have confidence in. To have a domestic currency, you need to build reserves.”

Zimbabwe abandoned its worthless dollar in 2009 and has been using the U.S. dollar, South African rand and British sterling pound for trading.

An economist for the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe, Prosper Chitambara, says the Ncube is a good choice for the job.

“It is a good start. He is someone who is credible, a professional. But what has to be done is to begin real work," he said. "To roll up his sleeves and begin to implement key fiscal policies that will bring back confidence into the economy. Reining down on recurrent expenditure. In general, what we need are fiscal consolidation reforms that curtail drastically recurrent government expenditure."

Chitambara says Zimbabwe's government spends much of its revenue on salaries, leaving social services sectors like education and health in dire need unless Western aid agencies, like USAID, assist. Chitambara says Ncube has to change that if the country is to recover.

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