The can­cer we must fo­cus on

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - COMMENT -

IN THE lat­est is­sue of Spec­ta­tor mag­a­zine (October 28, 2017), Rod Lit­tle tack­les the is­sue of treat­ing chil­dren like they are made of glass.

Ti­tled “Over-pro­tec­tive par­ents are mak­ing kids mis­er­able — and fat”, Lit­tle posits that it is now fash­ion­able for par­ents to mol­ly­cod­dle chil­dren.

Cit­ing a Unicef re­port which says Bri­tish chil­dren are the un­hap­pi­est in the West, he goes on to say de­clin­ing in-class per­for­mance, in­creased men­tal ill-health, higher sui­cide rates, re­duced in­de­pen­dent thought and stunted so­cial skills among the young are all a re­sult of the very mid­dle class be­lief in pam­per­ing their off­spring.

Lit­tle’s last para­graph reads: “The truth, I think, is that we know most of this in­tu­itively. We want kids, but find them in­con­ve­nient to our life­styles. And the cos­set­ing of the chil­dren is a kind of over-com­pen­sa­tion, be­cause we know that re­ally we are let­ting them down.” Zim­bab­weans can re­late. The ex­plo­sion in the num­ber of high-priced pri­vate schools, right from ECD level, where girls are treated like princesses and boys like lit­tle gods is tes­ta­ment to this.

Yes, chil­dren are del­i­cate and re­quire pro­tec­tion, but a dose of the real world has not done any­one any harm through the mil­len­nia of hu­man ex­is­tence and so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. It is an anal­ogy that can also be used when one thinks of the state of Zim­babwe’s paras­tatals and State-owned en­ter­prises, how they op­er­ate as eco­nomic en­ti­ties, and how Gov­ern­ment treats them.

Most paras­tatals and State-owned en­ter­prises are the lit­tle brats of the na­tional econ­omy: over-pro­tected, in­ef­fi­cient, not primed to com­pete, and cos­seted by a State that seems to think they will shat­ter at the mer­est con­tact with cap­i­tal­ism.

As we re­port in this week’s edition of The Sun­day Mail Busi­ness, of Zim­babwe’s 107 paras­tatals and State-owned en­ter­prises, 85 can be re­lied on to ef­fi­ciently post losses. The Chief Sec­re­tary to the Pres­i­dent and Cab­i­net, Dr Misheck Sibanda, says of the 93 paras­tatals and State-owned en­ter­prises au­dited last year (what­ever hap­pened with the other 14 is any­one’s guess), 38 recorded com­bined losses of US$270 mil­lion. That is not all.

Dr Sibanda says of the 93 that were au­dited, 70 per­cent were “tech­ni­cally in­sol­vent” or “illiq­uid”.

Ex­ec­u­tives at th­ese paras­tatals drive fancy cars, travel in busi­ness class all over the world on “busi­ness”, go on paid an­nual hol­i­days, and en­joy meet­ing at the famed 19th hole of golf clubs to sip ex­pen­sive whiskey and be­moan how bad the econ­omy is. But we should not blame them. They have been mol­ly­cod­dled and swathed in the com­fort­able drapes of Gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies, a raft of pro­tec­tive laws and poli­cies, and State fear of los­ing a foothold in the na­tional econ­omy. Our paras­tatals and State-owned en­ter­prises do not com­pete be­cause they do not have to. That is why their con­tri­bu­tion to GDP has shrunk from 40 per­cent at the turn of the mil­len­nium to two per­cent to­day.

We are not say­ing the State should aban­don th­ese en­ti­ties.

We are say­ing par­ents should not make chil­dren be­lieve they will be­come well-rounded adults able to deal with sit­u­a­tions with­out ever scrap­ing a knee, burn­ing a fin­ger, fail­ing a test, en­coun­ter­ing a bully, or be­ing turned down by a crush, among the dozens of other lit­tle things that make life what it is. Sim­i­larly, Gov­ern­ment should al­low paras­tatals and Sta­te­owned en­ter­prises to face the rough and tum­ble of eco­nomic re­al­ity.

This will help shape them into in­no­va­tive, re­silient and pro­duc­tive eco­nomic cit­i­zens.

Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe has said those that can­not com­pete should be “buried”.

Of course, even in the world of in­creased open mar­kets, there is still a case to be made for the benev­o­lent state. Some pub­lic en­ti­ties are there to pro­vide a ser­vice for the na­tion or a safety net for the vul­ner­a­ble.

They are not profit-driven but that does not mean they should lack com­pet­i­tive­ness and ef­fi­ciency.

So what is re­quired is a healthy blend of the benev­o­lent state and ag­gres­sive, cap­i­tal­is­tic com­pet­i­tive­ness that drives both so­cio-eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment.

No case can be made for in­ef­fi­cient mo­nop­o­lies. A monopoly that does not work is noth­ing more than an al­ba­tross around an econ­omy’s neck, a vam­pire suck­ing the lifeblood out of a na­tion. There is need to con­duct a thor­ough — and not end­less — as­sess­ment of paras­tatals and State-owned en­ter­prises to de­ter­mine which ones should be re­tained and which ones should be pri­va­tised. There­after, a trans­par­ent and na­tion­ally ben­e­fi­cial pro­cess of part or com­plete pri­vati­sa­tion must be un­der­taken.

The prob­lem of in­ef­fi­ciency in pub­lic en­ti­ties is one of the eco­nomic can­cers we must fo­cus on as a na­tion.

Not the none-sense that the Mubu­sos of this land would want to dis­tract our na­tional at­ten­tion with.

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