SI64: Par­tial cure for mo­men­tary short­sight­ed­ness

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Analysis - Spec­trum Jo­ram Ny­athi

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

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