COMMENT: President needs to name top economic team

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Generally speaking the business world has accepted the results of the Presidential and General Election, is satisfied that Emmerson Mnangagwa has won his own mandate and that he will continue pressing the economic revival he initiated eight months ago, and now awaits the naming of the new team of ministers and the acceleration in effort.

President-elect Mnangagwa has made it very clear that he wishes his Presidency to be judged on economic progress, and that politics is to take the back seat, simply being the mechanism to mobilise the nation to fulfil the vision of Zimbabwe joining the ranks of middle income countries. Obviously the President-elect can expect the total backing of business for such a policy and vision, since fulfilment of those goals will require a highly successful business sector. And equally obviously the business communities will be holding the President to his word, expecting him to fulfil his part while they, and what we all hope will be a rapidly expanding workforce, work flat out for their own benefit and the nation’s benefit.

So all in business will be waiting to hear who he has selected to head the critical ministries responsible for finance, industry and commerce, mining, agriculture and tourism, the core economic ministries, plus those for the critical infrastructure of energy, transport, roads and water. They will also be interested to hear how this group will be co-ordinated, to ensure for example that as new mines and factories come on stream new power stations are slotted into the power grid to make sure they can run. Generally speaking most in the productive sectors would like the President to personally devote considerable time to ensuring that his economic team is working and all are pulling together in the same direction.

So important is this group of eight or nine men and women that most in the productive sectors would like to see the top talent available moved into these posts and for the President-elect not to be shy about concentrating in this group the small number of technocrats he is allowed to appoint from outside Parliament. Knowledge of business and familiarity with the opportunities and problems of business are really desired; the President-elect does have a strong business background and needs a similar team

Of course even the most talented ministers need feedback, people to talk to and ways of finding out what are the bottlenecks and what can be done to fix problems. Some sectors have fairly strong mechanisms. Agriculture has several farming unions representing various groups of farmers, plus has a large block of Parliamentarians on the membership roll of at least one union. There will be a number of voices, but a patient and knowledgeable minister can cope.

The Chamber of Mines has done more than most to keep up with the times, but probably still needs to be more conscious of the newer openings in mining and to figure out how to represent effectively the smaller mining concerns. But again other bodies exist that can help fill gaps.

Industry has the biggest problems. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries tends to represent the older and bigger corporates. Yet the terrible times of the first two decades of this century has seen a new and vigorous group of industrialists emerge, and Zimbabwe is switching from the old-fashioned Anglo-American model of big companies run by accountants to a more German model, that is smaller, flexible companies owned and managed by technical types, women and men who are as at home on the factory floor as in the boardroom. This group tends not to belong to pressure groups; they need to be brought into the communication systems.

Other aspects of Government are important for economic development. It was interesting to hear the President-elect describe in his first press conference after his election the long legal processes he had to follow in his first eight months, and Presidents have to do everything according to law, to get to the stage where those who had cases of corruption, abuse of office and the like made out against them were now finally being wheeled before the courts. This is necessary. The guilty need to be jailed; the innocent victims of rumour and envy need to be cleared. And we need to make it clear that crime, favouritism and the like do not pay.

Our labour laws need to be fair to all, and fairly administered. We need to ensure that as the pool of unemployed skilled people dries up as new jobs are created that we are training enough school leavers each year to take their deserved roles. Tourism needs a decent environment and so on. An economic-centred cabinet is more than just economic ministers. It is the full team.

And then there are the other authorities. Local government is largely split in Zimbabwe between Zanu-PF dominated rural-district councils and MDC Alliance dominated urban councils. There were times in the last 15 years when some suspected that the central Government was punishing urban people, although shoddy administration would produce the same result. That confrontational nonsense ended in November last year and the Mnangagwa Government and the brighter mayors did start working together to get infrastructure fixed. Business would like that co-operation to continue. Businesses need all working together. It is not much use if central government makes business exceptionally easy to do, while a factory is at the end of a potholed road, has intermittent water supplies, no functioning sewer and public transport banned from bringing staff to work.

We are probably in for an exhilarating five years; but it needs everyone to be honest, fair, ready to play their part, willing to speak up and generally be prepared to put in the necessary very hard work, but hard work that will result in success.

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