Having just returned from a policy think tanking workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, I walked straight into Dr Tafataona Mahoso's opinion article: "Looting in the name of privatisation" published by the Zimbabwe Government-owned weekly The Sunday Mail.
I cannot help but make direct comparison with a similar article in Kenya's The Standard entitled: "ODM wants IPOs halted." Mr Raila Odinga, the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement challenging incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, is resisting attempts to privatise Safaricom and Telkom. Apart from what he terms 'violations of the Act', Mr Odinga insists that the privatisation proceeds will find their way into the (ruling party’s) election gravy train. He does not oppose the idea of privatisation per se, but argues against a process that is vulnerable to political patronage and manipulation.
On the other hand, Dr Mahoso, who also chairs the commission that 'issues licenses' to private newspapers, accuses privatisation of 'looting public assets.' Ironically, the same edition carries clear admissions that Government attempts to curb market distortions by controlling prices have been a dismal failure. Journalist Tafadzwa Chiremba for example, admits that the Government has had to make upward price adjustments "to correct market distortions and allow interplay between supply and demand sides." This comment puts the spotlight on a basic, fundamental principle of the market economy that has nothing to do with 'neo-liberalism', the Zimbabwe Democracy Bill or 'sponsored regime change'. The central government's mandate is to create a policy environment that is conducive to the free interplay of market forces, investment, innovation, confidence and freedom. The rest, well stocked shelves and competitive prices - will come into place. In the editor's 'Comment' column, we are told: "But admittedly some of the prices were set too low to allow business viability and this led to boycott by business."
It is suicidal to control things that one does not own, even if this act of goodwill and benevolence is meant for good. In the past 27 years, our government has tried to control (without much success) - petrol, electricity, water, rail transport, bus transport, air transport, telecommunication, education, health and agriculture among others. Business associations have no business arguing for political reform, because their mandate is profitability. They represent the collective interest of entrepreneurs, not, according to Mahoso "acknowledge, understand, condemn and fight the illegal economic war being waged against themselves and their own people." Accusing committed business persons (who have defied harsh macroeconomic conditions and continue to supply goods and services) of "masking the greed and corruption of their small clique” is to say the least, defamatory.
Every week, business pays millions of advertising dollars to inadvertently sustain Mahoso's weekly utopic socialist delusions. Dr Mahoso probably drives a modern Government car, watches colour satellite television and consumes volumes of foods - products of neo-liberal free market business acumen. Business is not the enemy- but the self-destruct mismanagement of macroeconomic fundamentals and failure to respect property rights and individual liberties rampaging in corridors of power. SADC has already said Zimbabweans started their own fire and need to gather enough courage to put it out themselves. One solution is to lie prostrate and salute the critical importance of free market principles and true democracy - and our trouble will be over within months.
There are many examples of successful market reforms supervised by the Privatisation Agency of Zimbabwe. Where would Zimbabwe ICT be without the likes of Strive Masiyiwa's ECONET that needed Supreme Court action to break PTC monopoly? The learned doctor wants to enlighten us on how high ranking members of his ruling party and their heroes in authoritarian regimes like the former Soviet Union and China usually benefit from privatisation. In fact, to spare him the agony of disclosure, his editor states in the Comment: "Where it [Government] does not directly have a stake, some of the leaders of the ruling party are known to have controlling shares in some food companies. They were able to establish themselves in business because of their positions in the party and Government."
When the City of Harare 'privatised' its refuse disposal during the Solomon Tawengwa era, contracts were parceled out to known ruling party stalwarts with no adherence to the criteria of entrepreneurial excellence. The system failed, but lo and behold, in the same edition of The Sunday Mail, Metro Reporter puts a bold introductory paragraph in her story: "As refuse collection continues to be a big challenge for the City of Harare, the local authority is considering (again!) going into partnership with private companies to improve the situation." I advise that Dr. Mahoso participates in local think tanking workshops so that he befits from the wisdom of free market thinkers like Calisto Jokonya (president, Confederation of Zimbabwe - CZI), Mara Hativagone (president, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce – ZNCC), John Manyakara (president, Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe – EMCOZ) and of course, myself, in a broad coalition for market and liberal solutions.
By Rejoice Ngwenya
Besides being a Freelance Writer in Zimbabwe, Rejoice runs his own policy dialogue ‘think tank’ called Coalition for Market & Liberal Solutions: COMALISO
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