Zimbabwe: Success of SMP Depends On Reform

The Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP) which has been agreed between Zimbabwe and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can only bear fruit if the government implements significant reforms and sustainable policies backed by political will.

The SMP is an informal arrangement between a country's government and the IMF to monitor the implementation of economic programmes

The latest SMP package comes at a time the country's economic crisis is deepening, characterised by foreign currency shortages, inflation, unemployment, massive retrenchment, company closures and fuel shortages.

Gene Leon, who was leading the IMF team that was in the country recently, said the country is facing serious economic challenges.

"Zimbabwe is facing deep macro-economic imbalances, with large fiscal deficits and significant distortions in foreign exchange and other markets, which severely hamper the functioning of the economy", he said.

"In addition, Zimbabwe is facing the challenge of responding to the adverse effects on agriculture and food security of the El Niño-related drought, as well as the devastation from Cyclone Ida".

Leon said the SMP, aimed at restoring economic stability, would be monitored regularly.

This is not the first time the government and the Bretton Woods institution have carried out such a programme.

The administration of former president Robert Mugabe also carried out an SMP with the IMF with the same objective of restoring economic stability.

However, efforts by then finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to institute measures to cut down on runaway expenditure hit a brick wall as the proposals were spurned in favour of political expediency.

This was amply illustrated in Chinamasa's 2016 mid-term policy statement when he announced a raft of measures to cut on expenditure. The proposed measures included cutting the perks of senior government officials and reducing the country's embassies dotted around the world. The proposals were thrown out by Cabinet.

A year earlier, Chinamasa had announced the suspension of bonuses for civil servants for 2015 and 2016. However, less than a week after Chinamasa's announcement, Mugabe publicly rejected Chinamasa's proposal to suspend the 13th cheque during his Independence Day address.

The former president said the presidium had not been consulted on the issue and declared that bonuses would remain in place. The failed attempts by Chinamasa dampened the letter and spirit of the SMP. The success of the SMP depends on the country's ability to attract significant investment, according to economist John Robertson.

"We need investment," Robertson said. "We must do practical things to lure investors. We must be attractive to the best people and right now we are not attractive to the best people."

He warned that unless government addresses the issue of property rights, the prospects of significant investment which will kick-start production will remain a pipedream.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube has made proposals to cut expenditure which include cutting by 5% the salaries of senior government officials including cabinet ministers and President Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, such measures have been largely derided as tokenism. It remains to be seen if government will flush out ghost workers through a biometric programme in the civil service and the extent to which it will reduce the country's embassies as outline by Ncube in the 2019 budget. Chinamasa would roll out a privatisation plan for some of the parastatals which have been responsible for bleeding the country's fiscus in successive budget statements ostensibly in line with the SMP programme.

The parastatals that had been earmarked for restructuring include the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, Cold Storage Company, Grain Marketing Board, Air Zimbabwe, TelOne, Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, National Railways of Zimbabwe, Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe National Water Authority and Zimbabwe Power Company.

However the privatisation of the parastatals have yet to take off.

The resumption of the SMP is nothing to shout about given that the programme has been in place before with no tangible benefits for the country, according to business consultant Simon Kayereka.

"My take is that the SMP is not new since we have had similar arrangements under Chinamasa's watch and did not see the results," Kayereka said. "The fact is, where an SMP is implemented, it is evidence that we need to be monitored, lest our propensity to consume beyond what we have takes over."

He noted that the SMP will not address the needs of the vulnerable groups in the country as the emphasis is on cost cutting. Kayereka added that there is need to align government policy with the SMP if is to bring about a different outcome to the other failed SMPs.

Kayereka's fears that the SMP could suffer a stillbirth could be realised if the sentiments of Vice-President Kembo Mohadi last weekend are anything to go by.

Addressing industrialists in Bulawayo, Mohadi attacked the Bretton Woods institution, saying they should not depend on the IMF.

"As Zimbabwe, we are here alone with our resources, so we have to exploit these resources and build our economy and stop expecting that the IMF and the World Bank, whose leaders imposed sanctions upon us to come and rescue us," he said.

The remarks by Mohadi, who is part of the country's presidium, poses serious questions about the government's political will to implement reform.

Mohadi's negative perception of the IMF strikes a similar tone to that of Mugabe who never hid his disdain of the IMF. This probably explains why the SMP did not gain much traction under his leadership.

Corruption is also a major threat to the country achieving its objectives under the SMP.

Mnangagwa's revelation that China did not release the whole of a US$144 million loan package to Harare City Council for a water reticulation project because of the abuse of the initial tranche is testament to the toxic effect of corruption.

Speaking about corruption in a special Independence Day interview with ZBC last week, Mnangagwa said money from China was corruptly spent at Harare City Council and that President Xi Jinping had told him about it.

Ncube has waxed lyrical about the resumption of the SMP. However, it remains to be seen how successful he can turn out to be given what he has described as "a political collar".

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