Opinion / Columnist
Welshman Ncube on Friday: Whose job is it to create employment?
19 Jun 2015 at 05:34hrs | Views
In my piece last week I wrote on poverty and there was one thing that stood out strongly; if all employable Zimbabweans would find a decent job, it would be a giant step, indeed a huge leap towards extricating ourselves from the clutches of poverty, hunger and deprivation. There is one challenge, progressive democrats like you and I differ fundamentally with ZANU PF on how we perceive the issue of jobs and employment. The Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency (ZimStats) is an institution with exceptionally talented and professional people. However, they are the same group that, a few years ago, embroiled us in controversy when they claimed Bulawayo has a population of much less than a million people. They also were ‘convinced' that Zimbabwe's unemployment rate is not 90% as purported by ‘reactionary elements' (a euphemism for opposition parties), but around 11%. ZimStats has the backing of both Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and ZANU PF on this Utopian allegation.
The paradox is this: how is it that when the manufacturing sector of industry is operating at 35% of its installed productive capacity can we possibly fulfill the job wishes of five million adult Zimbabweans? Given that 4500 commercial farms were seized, what happened to the three hundred thousand farm workers and their one million dependents? What about the fate of thousands of others in downstream agro industries? But then if you are of a ZANU PF school of thought, you no doubt consider five million vendors, hawkers, subsistence farmers and unlicensed public transport operators ‘employed'. According to Wikipedia, "a job is an activity, often regular, and often performed in exchange for payment … by becoming an employee, volunteer or starting a business." The International Labour Organisation also makes a similar reference (gainful, secure employment) although in some quarters, as explained by the Employers' Confederation of Zimbabwe, they bring in the aspect of ‘decent work environment'. (ZimStats Director General Mutasa Dzinotizei's rationale is that if vendors, hawkers, subsistence farmers and unlicensed public transport operators contribute ‘anything' to gross domestic product, then they must be ‘working'!
I raise this issue this week because the ruling party, which apparently is currently basking and gloating in an illusion of an ‘absolute Parliamentary majority', will claim that they can now fulfill their electoral campaign promise of having "indigenized 12,117,000 hectares of land which was previously in the hands of 3,500 beneficiaries of colonialism and illegal and racist Rhodesian rule and has resettled 276,600 households that have created over one million jobs..". They continue with a touch of arrogant bravado on "(Z)anu PF's Indigenisation and People's Empowerment reform programme which will create 2,265 million jobs over the next five years." Our compatriots at MDC-T adopt a more ‘sober' approach to the deceit by promising to re-engage the "international community and bring back investment and create 1 million jobs by 2018."
The problem with us politicians, whatever we say tends to exclude the facts. Beyond the dizzying statistical references, we all know that five million Zimbabweans are ‘qualified' to seek employment but are selling phone cards, second hand clothes or scraping a paltry income as resettled farmers are really not employed. Most are excluded from job-seeking records because they have given up hope. However, if unemployment "is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labour force", we cannot delude ourselves that those five million vendors of phone cards and second hand clothes ‘have jobs'. Just take a walk during the day in Mzilikazi (Bulawayo), Dangamvura (Mutare), Senga (Gweru) and Mufakose (Harare) and then make up your mind how many citizens actually have jobs.
Nevertheless, beyond the cruel humour of ZANU PF campaign delusions, whose job is it to ‘create' jobs? Leon Louw, a South African economist argues in his book, ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs' that human beings have permanent needs, so there is no need to ‘create' jobs. What an economy or government system needs to do is just to match these needs with productivity. In my research on this subject I read that 78% of Iceland's adult population has jobs since most citizens are gainfully employed in fishing for exports, electricity generation, software production, and biotechnology, finance, ecotourism and the agriculture industry. No doubt, their government employs others, but when government, like ours, becomes the single most reliable employer in a non-performing economy, you know something is definitely amiss. Local economist John Robertson argues that only about 850 000 Zimbabweans are formally employed while a third of these are civil servants. Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa mourned how the national fiscus is burdened with a three billion dollar public sector wage bill ‘paying people for not working'!
To say a government ‘creates' jobs, nay, to promise that a government will create three million jobs is criminal absurdity, especially if that government is doing all in its powers to chase away investors. If my party MDC were the government, we would adopt economic policies that encourage individuals' innovation, devolution and lower taxes to ensure individual and corporate citizens create jobs. We would be a government that respects property rights, promotes peaceful coexistence and international credibility and creditworthiness in order to trigger economic development that results in most adult citizens securing reliable jobs. We would have sound educational policies and reliable infrastructure to catalyse employment creation.
American writer Bo Burlinham quotes someone called Lou Dobbs who said, "Small business, entrepreneurs and innovators, mom and pop businesses, little shops and stores always created most of the jobs in this country (America) and they will again." However, academics John C. Haltiwanger, Ron S. Jarmin and Javier Miranda of the National Bureau of Economic Research - in their paper ‘Who Creates Jobs? Small vs. Large vs. Young' warn, "startups and young firms are important sources of job creation but …are inherently volatile with a high exit rate". For us Zimbabweans, there is empirical truth in that older and big companies like Lonhro, Zimasco, Zisco Steel, Bata, Julie Whyte, Cone Textiles, Zeco, Lever Brothers, Zim Glass, Security Mills, Archer and many other agro-based blue chip corporates had a better propensity to create jobs. This was prior to ZANU PF trashing them and ‘vendorising', if not vandalizing our economy. If MDC was in government we would not be taking money from circulation (crowding out effect) and spending it on useless ‘mechanisation projects', but leaving it to circulate gainfully in the market. A genuine government should cut bureaucracy and focus on enhancing the quality of freedom and human expression, where possible, avoid ‘exporting jobs' through public tenders awarded to dicey Chinese companies. Excess resources must be channeled into universities and other research institutions to create diverse ways of productivity and cropping.
My humble submission is that Zimbabwe is in a state of employment disarray because the ZANU PF government has taken an impossible responsibility to be the intrusive ‘benevolent uncle'. Mere posturing about three million jobs, indigenization and ‘mega deals' makes good reading in the Business Herald and entertains ZBC/TV listeners, but does not put food on our tables, pay school fees or put drugs in hospitals. Only sound policies that attract both local and foreign investment, encourage consumption and savings, competitive exports, strong infrastructure, a research-based academic system - are the ones that ‘create' jobs. For once, this dysfunctional ZANU PF government must take our advice and not just boast about a fictitious Parliamentary majority that exists for only one purpose - political self-preservation.
Source - Prof Welshman Ncube, MDC President
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