Tinashe Nyamunda The Economy Corner
As naive as it may sound, speaking truth to power about corruption, greed, ineptitude and the need to compare with alternative economic experiences is always a crucial exercise in any country serious about pursuing a trajectory leading to the development of its economy and genuinely improving people’s lives.
Thanks to my gracious hosts at a University in Osaka, I got the opportunity to tour parts of Japan using the very efficient transport networks.
On this visit I experienced an economy that has all the hallmarks of prosperity. Just slightly smaller in land area (at 378 000 square km) than Zimbabwe (390 000 square km), Japan accommodates a population of just over 126 million people as of July 2017, or 1,68 percent of the global population.
Despite the slightly less land mass, the pacific island nation supports a population 8 times that of Zimbabwe.
But this is article is not about Japan. It is about what my experience in Japan made me think about Zimbabwe. I know that some will argue that we cannot compare apples and oranges, especially as our histories, contexts, even environment are different.
Yet I still think there are important lessons to be learnt, about possibilities, alternatives and the exercise provides an opportunity to introspect as a nation. With such a large population, one would expect a realisation of neo-Malthusian fears — congestion in the streets, collapse of social services, food shortages, disease scourges, conflict among others.
But Japan provides an important model of efficient management. The country had the best transportation system I have ever experienced. Nearly all major airlines fly into Japan’s main international airports of Osaka’s Kansai airport, Tokyo’s two airports of Narita and Haneda, Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport and Fukuoka airport.
It also boasts many domestic airports in all of its major cities. The country’s well-regulated metered taxi system carries over one million passengers daily, especially in Tokyo which has almost 52 000 such vehicles, accounting for 20,7 percent of the national total. Its network of bus transportation, both commuter and between cities is excellent, always running on time.
Japan is also introducing more energy efficient fuel-cell buses that run on hydrogen in Tokyo. Its rail network is second to none. Operators on the Japanese Railway include 16 major private companies that served approximately 9,46 billion passengers on 2870 km of railway in a one-year period to April 2009.
The system is so efficient that every six minutes, a bullet train is taking off from Osaka to Tokyo, a distance of some 500km covered in just two and a half hours.
One just has to see the marvellous interlocking system of road and rail network, not to mention the harbours. The monorail in Osaka, for example, hangs above the road system to avoid congestion, allowing rail commuters and motorists to travel without any interference.
I picked transport above as an indicator because it is the most visible marker of efficient management. Less visible but equally fascinating are Japan’s economic statistics.
The country boasts a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$4,9 trillion in 2016, GDP per capita of US$38 894, and a life expectancy of 84.
Consisting of economic sectors of agriculture (3,9 percent), industry (22,2 percent) and services (69,8 percent) at 2010, the economy of Japan is the third largest in the world by nominal GDP, the fourth largest by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and the second largest developed economy is spite of its currency being exchanging at 110 yen per US$1.
Holding the Corrupt to Account
But Japan is not without its own challenges. Recently, the mayor of Tokyo, Toichi Masuzoe was implicated in a corruption scandal involving the use of public funds. He was then forced to resign by members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) because they feared voter backlash in upper house elections on July 10.
They were also worried about the re-election of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who also leads the LDP. Some Japanese politicians feared that the scandal would derail debates about whether or not the country could continue benefiting from a competitive depreciation of the yen for instance.
Clearly, the perspectives of the voters and their welfare appear to have been uppermost in the minds of politicians rather than the fate of just one influential individual.
That is effectively speaking truth to power through the influence of the electorate. The clear message is that politicians must honour the people they serve, grow the economy and protect taxpayer’s money with zero tolerance. What Masuzoe-san may not have been illegal, but because of the importance of honour and accountability, he was forced to resign anyway.
How does Zimbabwe compare? My column last week examined how the country is maintaining a regime of debt/deficit financing, and failing to overturn a serious balance of payment deficit. Even with the good fortunes of the rains, it is unlikely that the $1 billion from tobacco sales will do much to reduce the debt running into over $7 billion.
My biggest worry is that the country will veer off the course of developing the economy as politicians of different persuasions and factions continue to fight over succession and election. This in a country where corruption is so rampant that it has become a critical element of doing business. Billions of dollars disappear and there is no accountability except rhetorical passing mention, where parastatals are looted and responsible authorities come up with all sorts of justifications and excuses.
I used Japan’s transport infra-structure as a visible marker of a functioning economy. In comparison Zimbabwe’s collapsed transport infra-structure is a rendition to the country’s political economy. I am writing this not to point fingers at anyone, which should otherwise be the case as we should call our politicians to account, but rather to encourage people to introspect.
My experiences are not unique, many other Zimbabweans have had the opportunity to travel abroad and experience other countries, and many of our politicians have a better opportunity than most to do so.
I wonder how they feel, after returning from abroad and they drive on our pothole-ridden roads, manned by corrupt police officers with unregulated “mushika-shika” taxis and commuter omnibuses breaking the law, wreaking havoc and causing chaos on the roads.
Fixing Zimbabwean Problems
This is why Harare is so congested! Very few people can rely on the transportation system. Those with even limited means would rather purchase a used Japanese vehicle to avoid using the death traps that the country’s commuter and bus services have become.
Although the vehicles exported to Zimbabwe constitute a very small fraction of Japan’s income given the relative size of pacific island’s economy, it drains a huge amount of foreign exchange in Zimbabwe’s contracting economy.
As the politicians continue to fight over elections, succession, and jostle for positions, they should be reminded of their responsibilities. Everything in the country has almost collapsed or the systems are struggling . . . from railways, airlines and road transport systems and people have to bear the brunt for this.
Equally, the citizens must hold their government to account, however, difficult that is to do. The opportunity to glimpse into other countries’ economies helps one realise the extent to which the crisis is Zimbabwe is being normalised, how people adjust to it and begin to tolerate it.
The situation in the country needs attention through focussed programming. Comparisons can be made and lessons learnt.
- This article is written not as an attack of our leaders, but a plea to them to introspect as they prepare for the next elections.