SI64: Partial cure for momentary shortsightedness
IHAVE been trying to leave SI64 alone. Unfortunately it’s refusing to leave me alone. It’s perturbingly intrusive. I am forced to revert to it despite myself, because it is an important Government intervention in the economy. I belong to the Stone Age. I don’t believe in the neoliberal idea that Government has no business in business. As SI64 has just shown, Government did not dream up the import restrictions which that statutory instrument seeks to limit.
Business did invite Government to a belated disruptive intervene. (Sorry for those not consulted. There can never be sufficient consultation to satisfy every whim, particularly in our highly political environment.)
Industry and Commerce Minister Mike Bimha made clear at the CZI breakfast meeting on Monday that following dollarisation of the economy in 2009, Zimbabwe over-liberalised.
Reserve Bank Governor John Mangudya echoed similar sentiments. After the event Government went to sleep.
What was meant as respite became indigenised. Now there appears to be no contradiction in Zimbabwean demonstrators shouting, “We want our US dollars; we don’t want your bond notes”.
US is short for United States and its dollars can’t be ours please! But then that’s us.
So, when we over-liberalised the economy, imports became the new normal beyond a temporary relief.
We began to think and believe that importing everything was normal the same way we now think and believe the US dollar is ours and the sole legitimate currency.
If we can’t have it then we must have the South African rand as “our” currency. Not bond notes.
Instead of this being a source of shame, it is being embraced by opposition leaders who have gone so far as to mobilise people to demonstrate against bond notes.
They want our US dollars. They would rather have “our” South African rand. Doesn’t that make you feel like your head is under your feet?
I don’t blame ordinary consumers for resisting SI64. Those are people in survival mode.
Their imports are more basic, whether they import for personal consumption or for resale. They are rarely motivated by the thought of mega profits or politics.
It should be the business of business and Government to think and plan beyond today and tomorrow.
And not allow bad practices by consumers to turn into habits. Profiteering is too rampant in business because most of them think in political terms; to maximise profit today because you don’t know what could happen tomorrow.
It is the same businesses which tend to hoard foreign currency for the same political reasons. They profiteer but won’t bank.
Minister Bimha in his presentation on Monday alluded to this sinister mentality when he talked about businesses opposed to SI64.
He talked of executives employed in formal firms who have formed little businesses which now import on behalf of their employer.
They get a fat cheque for their day job from the employer; and another for supplying imported products to their employer.
Such cannot be expected to invest in local production, yet that should be the primary focus of industry.
We are us; we are Zimbabweans. We are specialist consumers who don’t want the sweat; the sacrifice entailed in production.
The following quotation is taken from a presentation by Finance Minister in the GNU Tendai Biti.
In his maiden Budget Statement in March 2009, Biti talked at length about the concept of a cash budget. Let him speak.
“The natural law of cash budgeting is ‘what we gather is what we eat’ or ‘we eat what we kill’.
“This is the basic economic law of hunter-gatherer economies. No ministry or public agency should expect to eat beyond what we have gathered through collection of taxes, fees and any other legitimate sources of revenue.
“‘What we gather, we eat’ unambiguously defines the priority not just in the Ministry of Finance but throughout all arms of Government.
“If we want to continue eating, we must all focus our minds and energies on maximising the revenues that are needed first to get those of us in the public sector back to work and then to implement all of the pressing issues.”
Give the devil his dues. It was a plea to go back to basics. Never mind his obsession with capitalist dogma in other spheres.
That was way before Zanu-PF began talking about Zim-Asset and what that policy should entail: eat what we kill.
Not eating what the American World Bank or the American International Monetary Fund gives.
Not eating what South Africans or the Chinese and Japanese produce.
But then when Zimbabwe dollarised, we so enjoyed the convenience of using “our” US dollar in the region that we forgot the basic necessity to produce.
We could easily purchase anything we so desired from anywhere in the world without a worry about who produced it; about what that purchasing power did to our industry, to our capacity to keep earning more US dollars, to our job creation capacity, to the overall economy, and to the “new indigenised economy” we sought to build and nurture in the womb of the disrupted and dying Rhodesian economy.
We are a shortsighted people who cannot think and plan beyond our hedonistic joys of today.
Zim-Asset cannot be sustained by a nation obsessed with consumption without production, a nation which hates sacrifice, a nation which seeks to please the World Bank and the IMF or the World Trade Organisation before it can build a strong foundation for its economy.
We want to be cosmopolitan before we can even crawl. We want the world to love us before we can love ourselves!
Like is said, I don’t blame the simple man who wants to survive, who wants to feed his family and send his child to school, to buy some second hand underwear for his wife or to build a shack to accommodate his family.
I am talking about people in charge of ministries, I am talking of so-called captains of industry.
The people who shun local products because they are of low quality. Vehicles, television sets, tyres, bottled water, bricks, clothes, shoes, brooms and toothpicks.
In Biti’s basic economic law of hunter-gatherer economies (and I agree with him on this) we must eat what we kill or gather.
If our nimrod can only kill an alligator, that is what we are fit to eat.
If our industry, our manufacturers can only produce poor quality products, that reflects more our state and stage of economic development, which demands work and commitment.
It is our duty to train our hunters to catch kudu and impala. It certainly doesn’t serve our interest to kill the hunter in the hope of meeting our needs from neighbouring territories.
SI64 is a belated medication for our shortsightedness, for indolence, and a spur to local creativity and production.
I hope industry takes it in good faith. I am also one of those who believe companies which can’t adapt must be allowed to die.
Was it Britain’s late Baroness Margaret Thatcher who famously declared: “If it doesn’t hurt it aren’t working” in support of her privatisation of energy, coal and transport sectors in the 1980s?
Why should we fool ourselves that economic prosperity comes through cheap imports; that newly-acquired farms should miraculously yield manna or that there are charitable investors and philanthropists waiting for President Mugabe to go so they can give us our US dollars?
And what do I hear? Zimbabwe Cross Borders’ Association president Mr Killer Zivhu protesting that Zimbabweans want to buy goods of good quality.
“We want to buy Zimbabwe. For example, manufacturers from the fridges, we import 2000 refrigerators every day.
“Are you going to meet the demand?” asked Mr Zivhu at the CZI breakfast meeting on Monday. “We do not want a situation where we will always talk about promoting local industry which does not produce to our capacity.”
And he is the champion of Village Zim-Asset in Chivi, Masvingo. Not to mention that I am shocked that “poor” Zimbabweans import 2 000 fridges DAILY.
Leaving aside a dose of hyperbole, even if one fridge costs $200, what does that come to in a year? How many units imported in 365 days? Whose economy are we sustaining, and what cost to our own jobs?
In short, while South Africans have their brains and hands working white hot, Zimbabweans have their eyes shut and mouths open, ready to consume some more.
No wonder Musina is furious at SI64. Businesses don’t even have to worry about export duty or transport costs because our US dollar can cover all that; we the literate nation.
Zimbabwe Cross Borders’ Association president Mr Killer Zivhu