Two inter-related issues — highlighted in two feedbacks I have received over the past six months — should be addressed as a matter of priority and urgency.

The first one is do with what one mobile money transfer platform has given rise to or morphed into — a replica or clone of the Old Mutual-implied interbank rate.

Tinashe Chifamba emailed me as follows way back on January 11, 2019 as feedback: “To add on to why the country is facing such protracted price and market distortions, currently in the business sector — particularly retailers, manufactures, and banks, including those EcoCash agents — they are in the unacceptable business of selling bond notes and coins at different rates. Up to now, I don’t know who is the mastermind behind these satanic exchange rates.”

Continued Chifamba: “As we are aware, EcoCash at law is not obligated to charge premiums on customers since the agent would get the proceeds through commission. But it is the reverse logic in downtown Harare right now, and these guys are bloodsuckers and vampires. They make cashouts of notes at 20% or more.

- Advertisement -

To make matters worse, they do make orders through transfers from the manufacturers, not in hard currency which they have demanded in the first place. They are making two-fold profits, which is unethical and unacceptable in business. So in our economy, there is continuous disintermediation which hurts business to its core, and the Finance minister once alluded to that fact.”

Six months down the line, nothing has changed. If anything, it’s much worse now. Last week, I received feedback from Watseni waMaungwe, pointing out the damaging effects of this disintemediation.

WaMaungwe noted: “Will the government ever be able to collect enough revenue from cartels for it to sustain its operations and support the vulnerable people through effective and efficient safety nets? Cartels close all gaps in the supply value chain, and value-addition and beneficiation for themselves and remit taxes from or for one industry, thereby reducing government’s tax base. With cartels, there is no downstream or upstream industry benefiting from their business as they suffocate these downstream and upstream industries by having their fingerprints imprinted all over the show.”

This disintermediation — reduction in the use of intermediaries between producers and consumers bypassing the normal retail outlets — hits the poor majority hardest.

Noted waMaungwe: “Come to retailing of FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and household goods, it’s OK and TM. Where did our Lucky 7, Mutomba Supermarket and Jarzin go? I am from Mabvuku and we had our Lucky 7 shop paKamunhu (at Kamunhu shopping centre). Unless and until the Competition and Tariffs Commission sobers up, beomes professional and ethical, more and more vicious and sophisticated cartels are on their way to destroy us. With cartels running the show, it will be dog-eat-dog regardless of who sits on the throne.”

Those are the facts. So people should not be persuaded or swayed otherwise. Economic turnaround does not hinge on the overhyped political reform or so-called national dialogue.

WaMaungwe rightly observes: “Can our economy prosper if we remain with cartels? Can our kids graduate then find or make jobs in the midst of cartels? Can the SMEs [small and medium enterprises] blossom beyond SMEs in the midst of cartels? As such, we must not be led into believing that small businesses will graduate — it is a fallacy in the midst of cartels.”

All with eyes to see will notice that Finance minister Mthuli Ncube is doing the ultimate thankless job: applying shock treatment — or sudden and drastic measures taken to solve an intractable problem, which the Zimbabwean economy had become.

Ncube found an economy in decay — like a tree rotting from inside — but the smell was being covered by crispy US dollars. There were mind-numbing debt figures, record interest payments, spending was up and revenue was bleeding, there were record deficits, growth was lagging, the jobless figures were rising — the list
is long.

But the astute Chifamba notes: “A lot of people are being misled to think that government is failing its citizens yet the citizens are failing other citizens and government as well. Yes, the burden is on the shoulders of the authorities, but citizens must be sober to determine the extent of the blame on the authorities. All those who appear to be opportunists must be called to order; it would have been better had they provided alternative solutions rather to destructively criticise what others are doing to drive the nation out of the mess. Vampires and suckers are making lives of citizenry horrendous and unlivable.”

While the interbank market is still being fine-tuned by the government, some producers are already accessing forex from that official market, but go on to peg prices on the basis of the parallel market rates.

Unfortunately, there is this cynical view that the surest way to get ahead in the world is to lie and cheat whenever you can get away with it. What’s more, as they say, everyone else does it, so you better join in and get your share.

Wrote William Damon and Anne Colby, professors at Stanford University in the United States: “It need not be this way. The cycle of dishonesty can be broken by any person who refuses to go along with distortions of the truth in the workplace, the media, or the public sphere. This is our hope for the future: truth is robust, and anyone who stands up for it can bring it back to life.”

Honesty, like all virtues, requires cultivation. The rule of thumb in cultivating honesty is to resist life’s frequent temptations to gain advantage through deception, including political deception.

Discerning Zimbabweans should by now know what some of those detractors are really up to. When the government started the progressive monthly National Clean-Up Day (which is also held in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda), it was roundly criticised by some political elements in the habit of attacking anything and everything done by the government.

Now it has been posted on social media that their own political formation will be holding their own clean-up day in Mbare. This hypocrisy shows that most of their criticism of government policies is totally baseless, hollow, and even malicious and spiteful.

Write Damon and Colby: “This is exactly the wrong kind of reinforcement, shaping behaviour away from, rather than toward, trustworthiness. And untrustworthiness reproduces itself: When one person gives up on dealing honestly with others, that person joins the ranks of the untrustworthy, influencing others to abandon their own commitments to the truth. Mistrust can spread throughout an entire society. This becomes a problem beyond poor personal relationships: Any democracy requires a minimum level of shared trust to function. We may be approaching that minimum level right now.”

Need it be mentioned that the society-wide criminal dishonesty driving the current price madness is now the biggest threat to democracy in Zimbabwe as we could be now approaching that minimum level of shared trust to function?