We have positive and negative connotations on the impact of COVID – 19 on our economy. I will provide a comprehensive analysis of how the Government can tackle this pandemic and re-build the economy. We have a few lessons to learn from this experience and at the same time, we have to come up with a proper framework to address fundamental aspects towards critical sectors of the economy. As a development practitioner and Policy Advisor, I will provide an alternative that will be formulated for proper checks and balances to our ailing economy and situation.
1. COVID – 19 taskforces must be inclusive
In the past, our Government was struggling to balance the aspect of transparency and accountability on all resources which find themselves to the national Fiscus, and this led to international creditors and development partners working with civic society and other organizations. I would urge President Mnangagwa to accommodate academics, researchers, policymakers, the private sector, the business community, Entrepreneurs, and legislators to widen the taskforce by ensuring accountability and transparency are part of this project. So far figures are not yet known to the public, how much was contributed towards the pandemic and how much is left, and who was awarded such tenders and on what basis. Which criteria did the Government through the Ministry of Health selected to award those tenders. Transparency and accountability is one of the key components of Governance and Leadership.
2. COVID – 19 an opportunity to decentralize our economic activities
Whilst I appreciate the lockdown measures put by the Government five weeks ago, it is prudent to come up with measures and alternatives to provide economic solutions to jumpstart the economy. There is a serious global recession and economies have suffered major setbacks, and we may witness the collapse of several companies. It was not necessary to have a total lockdown, I would recommend the Government to decentralize service providers such as Small and Medium Enterprises ( SMEs), by allocating them proper places to do their businesses. I will give an example, we can have people from Kuwadzana have their own designated places for business, we can have people from Marlborough with their own places. This will minimize costs, reduce unnecessary movements, and reduce the high risk of infection. This will improve cash flows, ease liquidity crunch, and also promote local trade and movement of necessities, and promote free-market economy.
3. Robust changes to develop a Proper Development Policy
We can learn a few experiences with what we witnessed from global giants like South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, key European countries such as German, Australia, and the Netherlands, etc. These countries came up with stimulus packages to rescue their economies, and Zimbabwe had challenges in preparedness. Let me clarify by saying, we lack strategic preparedness on how to tackle COVID – 19. A few days ago the President announced an 18 Billion stimulus package, which would aid industry and other critical sectors of the economy which could not be justified in practical terms. We are moving into the fifth week under lockdown regulations, we are yet to witness the 18 Billion stimulus package. Previously, Finance Minister Muthuli Ncube announced that he was going to release more than 500 Million cushion allowances fund, and each citizen was supposed to receive at least 1000 eco cash back up, and we have nothing to show and we are almost entering into the sixth week. It is important for the Government, a well-respected institution to speak the truth, and walk the talk, so build trust between citizens and the public sector.
– Food distribution must be done by ward councilors & Mps or district heads. It is not necessary for wholesome Ministers to be found everywhere in villages distributing food humpers. This will result in reducing the office of respected Ministers.
– Receiving donations must be done by COVID – 19 taskforce or Health department. It may not be necessary to have the presidium team or Vice Presidents receiving donations or even Ministers receiving refrigerators.
– The presidency is a strong office which must never be undermined or underrated and this will result in the Office of the Presidency being reduced to a club
4. Opportunity to re-build relations with International partners
COVID – 19 was going to be an opportunity to mend relations with development partners and international creditors. The task force was supposed to give regular updates on how resources were being managed on a daily basis and give proper regular reports on financial matters.
6. Opportunity to unite the nation
I watched a clip of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing South Africa at a brief briefing together with his political nemesis and arch rivalry Julius Malema, and this would boost confidence within potential investors and local confidence. Today South Africa is flourishing with donations, resources, international support because they used the opportunity to demonstrate the unity of purpose.
7. Priority was given to critical sectors of the economy
If Zimbabwean Government prioritized the five critical sectors of the economy, namely :
3. Infrastructure Development
Our economy would be a contributory factor towards the national development agenda. We have miles to go on our economy.
# Redirection of our expenditure is critical
4.3 Billion which disappeared from the Command Agriculture facility could have been directed to the Manufacturing sector.
1.2 Billion Command Agriculture fund could have gone a long way to rescue the ailing Health, Mining, Education sector. It was an embarrassment to receive ventilators from donors, yet we had 1.3 Billion which disappeared at the disguise of Command Agriculture
– A total of 9 Billion USD for Command Agriculture is nowhere to be found near the National Fiscus.
Donations must never a grand plan to clean dirty money.
– Agriculture Ministry in conjunction with local financial institutions ( Banks) , must be in charge of SMART AGRICULTURE
Lessons are drawn from COVID – 19 experience :
1. Opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Change of mindset is key. Opportunity to unite and come together as one family. Partisan food distribution should era of the past.
2. Research and Development must be a priority. We need resources for Academics who will come up with theories on COVID – 19 and other pandemics. Research institutions must be strengthened
3. Promotion of skills development
4. Implement teleworking and virtual meetings to save travel costs
5. Technological advancement in all critical sectors of the economy
6. The informal sector which plays a huge role in local and foreign currency circulation is out of business. There must be a proper business model and framework to address such fundamentals
8. Incapacitated institutions have been seriously exposed such as Health, Education and ICT
9. Aggressive expansion of fiber networks is critical to enhancing effective communication
10. Instead of traveling to unnecessary summits and globe-trotting, senior Government officials, President and Cabinet Ministers must take advantage of fiber networks such as Zoom meetings, etc. Channel all the savings towards critical sectors of the economy
11. Public expenditure is reduced, unnecessary movements, and people are confined to their systems and areas. People can work from home and save costs.
12. Clean Environment. I want to applaud the Government for taking necessary measures to clean all the cities but I encourage them to find proper designated places for vendors, SMEs, and other players to improve their livelihood
13. Climate changes for the better. Fewer vehicles and fewer distortions.
14. Address trade barriers. We have depended on imports and 97.5% of our economy is the informal sector, they largely depend on goods from our neighboring countries such as South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia. There is a need for the Government to work in hand with their counterparts on how to deal with such situations.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST – COVID – 19 is now a NEW NORMAL
We must accept that it’s now a reality and learn to live with it. What am I saying? I’m simply saying open the economy and come up with measures to address fundamental aspects, health issues, proper regulations to safeguard the public. We need food on the table, at the same time, we must learn to live with it. COVID – 19 is around us, let’s open the economy and find ways to improve our livelihood
15. The two-week lockdown was not necessary. Let’s have robust changes to address economic challenges and come up with a proper framework to deal with matters at hand.
Tinashe Eric Muzamhindo is a Researcher and Policy Advisor. He is also the Executive Director of Zimbabwe Institute of Strategic Thinking ( ZIST), and he can be contacted at [email protected]