guest column Kudzai Kwangwari

THE recent announcement by President Emmerson Mnangagwa that Zimbabwe is going to have its own currency before end of year, is not only careless and miscalculated, but a sign of panic and lack of tact.

There is consensus that Zimbabwe is in a serious economic crisis which cannot be addressed by currency reform since currency issues are just but symptomatic, signifying more serious and deep-seated economic fundamentals that have gone off- rail.

Mnangagwa must remind his Finance minister Mthuli Ncube what went wrong for Zimbabwe to abandon its own currency before considering bringing it back.

He (Mnangagwa) would know better since he has been part of Cabinet since the attainment of independence in 1980 and he witnessed how the economy took a nose-dive since the black Friday in 1997. So it’s a crisis which cannot be addressed by focusing on the currency.

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If this currency is introduced when the economy is in its current state, then be sure that it will be just as the RTGS and citizens and businesses will speculate while the problems we face will worsen.

Mnangagwa should have concentrated on a serious economic reform process which is premised on genuine political reforms not just face-saving antics which are meant to sway the attention of citizens.

There are a number of key issues that require addressing and which determine whether our own currency will sustain or not. These are public confidence, corruption, productivity, and political stability including rule of law.

Public confidence
No economy sustains without public confidence for as long as the public has no confidence in the economic system, including banking system, and policies that go with it such as fiscal policy and monetary policies, then we are still doomed.

In fact for as long as there is a public secret that those that are on the driving seat of the economy are not trustworthy, nothing will work. It’s very important that those making key decisions about the economy inspire confidence and citizens have trust in them, then nothing will work.

It won’t work, simple. The Zanu PF government has a record of messing up the economy and with the change of guard in 2017, Mnangagwa had an opportunity to adopt a new approach but he didn’t.

There was so much goodwill both locally and internationally which the current government failed to take advantage of and present a new way of doing business. The mantra-‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ – did not provide anything tangible on the ground to inspire confidence to both local and international publics.

The international re-engagement process should have been backed by clear and confidence -inspiring reforms both economically and politically on the ground. This did not happen.

In fact we witnessed the worsening of the situation. So, Mnangagwa and his government need to address this important economic capital which is evidently deficient at the moment. In my view, introducing a new currency without building public confidence is just but a waste of time.

Invest in confidence building first, then all else may just fall in place. Seek yee public confidence, then things may begin to take shape.

Address corruption decisively
This can no longer be business as usual and it’s not funny and it’s linked to the issue of public confidence.

The arrests- and- release political game which you adopted immediately after assuming office cannot be tolerated unfortunately nor can you use this cancerous issue as a political tool to deal with your political enemies Mr President. No. It will not work.

This time citizens would want to see you taking difficult measures and decisions to root our society of corruption.

We have heard you making some very encouraging pronouncements on how serious you want to deal with corruption only to be disappointed as all that turns to be lots of heat without light at all.

There mustn’t be any sacred cows when it comes to dealing with corruption and any sign of it must be dealt with decisively and not political tokenism. In order for citizens to believe in you and your government, there must be genuine desire to reform from within.

The tussle between government and party as you conflate the two carelessly should stop. Party business cannot be the same with government business. Sending party representatives to speak on serious government business should not be allowed.

Otherwise introducing new currency under such circumstances will not help and it will not work.

Increase productivity
While l support foreign direct investment since it brings much-needed foreign currency, I am of the view that local businesses must pass a vote of confidence in the economy by growing their business locally. I am a fan of an economy which is rooted locally where we utilise our comparative advantage as a nation.

Otherwise we cannot invite foreigners to come and invest in an economy which our own businesses have no confidence in. It will not work. It doesn’t work.

While we are courting foreign businesses, let’s also genuinely support local businesses with progressive policy measures which are not designed to generate political mileage but genuinely grow our economy. The ease-of-doing business mantra must be supported by practical measures on the ground.

Rumour that some government officials are taking advantage of their proximity to the centre of power as an opportunity to engage in corruption is an unfortunate development which must not be allowed to continue unperturbed.

It is very important to support genuine businesses seeking to contribute to economic growth through various policy interventions and these should not be based on partisan lines, but on merit. Additionally, the support should be a business approach as opposed to political freebies which are not paid back, thereby weighing on the economy.

Political stability and democracy
Our Constitution together with other supporting statutes are very important tools in promoting and guiding democratic practice. The rights enunciated in the Constitution must not only be promoted but also protected so that citizens are confident about how they can go about their community life.

In a situation where rights are not guaranteed as it appears to be some of the time, it affects the social contract between the governors and the governed. It should not based on the discretion of the political elites to determine which rights one must or mustn’t enjoy.

The August 1, 2018 and January 14, 2019 incidents are not a good example of a government which takes the promotion and protection of the rights of citizens seriously and as such is not a good public relations even to foreigners.

We need to see more commitment to the rule of law principle as opposed to rule by law where laws are used to perpetuate anarchy and violation of rights.

The right to demonstrate as provided for in the Constitution must be taken as an opportunity for those in government to gauge how popular its policies are, and therefore must be supported and encouraged without interference.

This does not mean taking away the responsibility of government to protect life, property, and citizens, but in all cases it must be done in a manner which discourages citizenry from taking an active role in the political ecosystem of its country.

In the same token opposition must be allowed to engage in its political programmes including and especially challenging the ruling party both on various platforms including parliament, and elections.

In conclusion, it is too early to even consider announcing the introduction of a local currency given the sorry state of the economy. In fact there is no economy to talk about at this stage and a local currency is the last thing locals would want to hear.

The government should concentrate on serious political and economic reforms, building public confidence, stimulate productivity and exports, growing local businesses while attracting foreign direct investment, promote political stability including rule of law and constitutionalism, before introducing our local currency.

In the absence of these, it will not work and it doesn’t work. Otherwise, the effects of the announcement itself will be devastating.