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Zimbabwe's policymakers are flying blind

21 May 2020 at 19:42hrs | Views
...COVID-19 exposes gaps in social infrastructure

The lack of accurate data, which is the lifeblood of any economy, is a disease of incompetent governance and makes informed economic developmental policies and effective social interventions impossible.

You can tell the integrity of any government and its commitment to development by the quality of the country's economic and social infrastructure. You cannot hide failure.

Countries that are bogged down with corrupt governments have bad quality and dilapidating infrastructure, they have terrible roads, continuous power cuts, erratic and bad quality water supplies and do not look after their environment . They are unable to neither provide nor invest in basic social infrastructure to improve the quality of life of their citizens.

It is evident that Zimbabwe's economic growth and development cannot be achieved without the availability of appropriate economic and social infrastructures. The need to improve the quality of infrastructure services is, therefore the cornerstone for our future growth.

It is estimated that Zimbabwe will need about US$20 billion to overhaul and rehabilitate its infrastructure. However, the priority needs to be on improving our institutional arrangements, public resources governance and project management capabilities. On top of that, we must deal with corruption ruthlessly before we can create an environment of accountability both in the private and public sectors.

In general, infrastructure is defined as electricity, gas, telecoms, transport and water supply, sanitation and sewerage but also includes social infrastructure such as health care, education housing and internet infrastructure. The latter is key in improving the quality of life of citizens.

Zimbabwe has had an increasing budget deficit for at least the last 10 years, if not more. This deficit has largely arisen, not because we were investing either in our productive capacity or economic and social infrastructures, but we were merrily consuming all the money we had.

We ended up spending as much as 90% on consumption with very little left for any meaningful capital formation. That has been a recipe for disaster.

Added to that, is the huge foreign debt in excess of US$15 billion which continues to be an albatross on the country accessing developmental capital and/or credit facilities to this date. We simply spent all we made, even borrowed more.

The results are obvious in that, to this day, nobody can clearly account where the money went and there are no visible or tangible assets we can point at today. It has been a lost decade of profligacy, non-accountability, lack of transparency, sheer waste and unbounded corruption.

When the new Minister of Finance, Mthuli Ncube came in there was much hope that we would see a drastic change of behaviour and change of fortunes. However, we have seen a drastic increase in inflation, currency instability and inconsistency in policy enunciation and implementation which has put paid to any hope of things easing.

Despite a budget surplus and some improvement in infrastructure spending especially on roads, the conditions and quality of life for most citizens have actually gotten worse. The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has done but one thing; it has exposed to all that we have not bothered to invest in our social infrastructure to meet the basic needs of a growing population.

Added to that, we have seen a highly inefficient and uninformed social welfare ministry which has no idea of the extent of poverty both in the urban and rural sectors and lacks up-to-date information systems that will allow meaningful and effective responses to emergencies such as the one we are facing.

To this date, many potential beneficiaries of emergency COVID-19 funds have not received them because we basically do not know who they are, what they do and where they reside.

The same applies for the informal sector and traders. This means that the country, generally, has no idea of the status of a huge majority of its citizens simply because nobody has bothered to do so.

The lack of accurate data, which is the lifeblood of any economy, is a disease of incompetent governance and makes informed economic developmental policies and effective social interventions impossible.

From small scale gold miners, to small scale farmers, to number of kombis, to physical assets, to housing stock, to natural resources endowments, to occupations and professions, to taxpayers, to the business sector, to the informal sector, to production statistics, to home affairs statistics, to child headed homes, to the elderly, to the disabled, to streets kids to orphans, to single mothers and so on, Zimbabwe has no idea on the numbers of all of these and more.

This effectively means that we have a government that is flying blind and hoping to make an impact through academic policies that do not consider social impact. We there cannot anticipate a successful impactful economic developmental policy or achieving our economic objectives and vision when we don't know much about ourselves and our country.

In my opinion, the Ministry of ICT has failed because the provision of information systems for all government entities and activities should fall on its shoulders. However, it's also a matter of leadership and mind-sets. The situation is so ridiculous that some ministers do not even use computers!

We need to re-invent ourselves and promote the efficient use of technology and systems to implement effective policies, economic and social management within the public sector. This remains a huge challenge which has a lot to do with the calibre of people we
have in leadership positions and the mind-sets of civil servants especially those of the older generation.

The fourth industrial revolution could be the opportunity to force our public sector to have to adopt new technologies and change the way of doing things. The opportunities we face in the future cannot be appreciated and taken advantage of without a profound paradigm shift within government. Without accurate, up-to-date information systems, any policy measures would be irrelevant and ineffective.

In fact, you cannot claim to be an effective government or leader when you don't know what you should know. When you don't have an idea of the economic and social status of citizens whose interest you purport to represent, you are effectively leading them blind.

Vince Musewe is an independent economist. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source - Vince Musewe
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