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Chinese business in Zimbabwe has come of age

by Staff reporter
28 Feb 2022 at 05:20hrs | Views
The statement by the Chamber of Chinese Enterprises in Zimbabwe (the Chamber) which was published in local media on Tuesday, was a powerful iteration that could define how Chinese and other foreign businesses conduct their affairs in Zimbabwe.

The statement, the first of its kind, contained guidelines of how Chinese companies should conduct themselves so as to contribute to a good investment environment.

This was the first time that the chamber, a grouping of 80 companies operating in Zimbabwe, issued such guidelines to its members.

The statement came against the background of attacks on Chinese companies, in the form of contrived, coordinated and choreographed onslaught by political actors and agents in civil society and the media.

The statement by the chamber was important for its pragmatism, candour, good spirit and deep sense of responsibility.

Not least, a few Chinese companies' failings as well as errors of commission and omission have been highlighted by the statement.

Tuesday's statement read like a manifesto, a Bible or a strict code usually associated with bodies representing lawyers or medical doctors, themselves known to be strict in enforcing strong morals, ethics and values as well as obligations and responsibilities of practitioners.

The statement by the chamber should have keenly interested Government, policymakers, companies and watchers of China-Zimbabwe relations.

It is an important document that will be referenced for a long time to come.

A number of pointers make this an important and seminal document.

First of all, in outlining nine major points, the statement touched virtually all aspects of Chinese and foreign investment in Zimbabwe from how companies should conduct business from obtaining relevant paperwork to how they should interact with communities and the media.

A candid sense of responsibility weaves through the statement, noting how Chinese companies have to comply with local laws and regulations as well as traditions and sensitivities.

There is an acknowledgment that previously, not enough attention had been paid to these aspects by a few investors, resulting in disputes between those companies and other stakeholders.

This has not been entirely up to the Chinese.

There have been gaps, and they still exist, in the implementation and monitoring of projects to avoid pitfalls such as conflict with local communities.

Some government officials, at various levels, have sometimes taken less-than-strict and less-than-dilligent approaches to enforcing regulations, and this has boomeranged on investors some of whom have started working on projects before their full approval or without proper procedures, including relocation of locals, having taken place.

None could blame investors for seeking to maximise profits through taking advantage of certain loopholes.

However, for Chinese companies, the chamber demonstrated that this eventually turns into bad business that neither accords the foreign policy of the Chinese government nor advances the interests of people in Zimbabwe.

The stance by the chamber repudiates concerns that Chinese people do not care about the damage that their businesses cause. On the contrary, the chamber has just demonstrated not only utmost sensitivity but also a careful systems thinking.

Chinese operations in Zimbabwe could just have turned a corner. The companies — through the chamber — have come of age.

It must have taken a lot of courage and maturity on the part of Chinese businesses to recognise that something done by a few companies had to change, and they set down the rules.

It is commendable that Chinese companies are set to apply and be guided by the highest standards and some universally acceptable approaches to business.

The Chamber has taken a stand against bad practices and work cultures.

This is raising the bar very high, not just for the Chinese companies but also other investors.

Investors are winners in this. Local communities and Zimbabwean people are winners in this. It is a classic "win-win" situation that had scarcely been imagined possible.

Workers, too, are winners in this.

The statement by the chamber clearly outlined that local workers must be treated fairly and with dignity, must not be "overworked" and should be rewarded in terms of the law.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the chamber gave away too much.

The truth, however, is that by codifying good practices, the Chinese business community keeps extending a hand of goodwill, friendship and cooperation to the people of Zimbabwe as always.

Having laid out its own obligations and codes of behaviour and practice, the Chinese business community no doubt expects the investment climate to change for the better: it is a quid pro quo.

A number of factors have increasingly militated against business in Zimbabwe, particularly where Chinese companies are concerned.

These include bureaucratic inefficiencies, corruption and rent-seeking practices by some local actors; as well as lack of regulatory clarity on a number of areas.

Lately, the politicisation of the natural resource sector and proliferation of paid agitation by civil society organisations have become other causes for concern.

There is clearly no doubt that the Chinese business community want, and have begun to fix things, which is also a great indicator that they are in Zimbabwe to stay.

With the rules of engagement set out in the nine-point statement, Zimbabweans — at the level of authorities and ordinary people — must watch closely and reciprocate actively.

This is important because most of the businesses that are coming here from China are reputable companies of various sizes themselves, not some fly-by-night outfits.

Going forward, the whole Chinese business community will conduct better with the nine-point statement.

Source - The Herald