At the height of economic populism, the National Incomes and Pricing Commission (NIPC), an all-powerful body was established and had carte blanche to determine the maximum prices to be charged on goods and services.
Within days, shop shelves were empty and a thriving parallel market for basic commodities took over. The intended beneficiaries of the government decree could not enjoy the bonanza. More than a decade later, the government realised that it was a futile exercise to fight business and it was better to dialogue and take all players on board to attain competitiveness and the National Competitiveness Commission (NCC) was born.
Unlike the NIPC which relied more on a stick, NCC believes dialogue and common cause is what will anchor its mandate, according to executive director Phillip Phiri.
“All public entities are aligned to Vision 2030 and the strategic blueprint the NDS1, this is ground for cooperation. Government is fully behind our cause, and we have been receiving very valuable support and guidance. The private sector has for a long time been calling for NCC to be operationalised and our preliminary engagement with the private sector has been encouraging and pointing to an increased will for collaboration in addressing issues affecting our competitiveness,” Phiri told Business Times.
The Commission has set an ambitious target: Zimbabwe will be in the top 100 on the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) and the World Bank’s ease of doing business index.
Phiri said the building blocks for competitiveness can be broad and the GCI index identifies 12. He said improvement of basic requirements in an economy to enable competitiveness will be key.
“We need to create an environment where industries benefit from a stable macro-environment through the presence of strong capital markets, relevant educational and regulatory institutions, accessible infrastructure, and competitive labour pools,” he said, adding there is need for the development of quality products and standards of products to improve the size of domestic and export markets.
“On the markets front, efficiency enhancer blocks will be key. These are issues such as enhancing the goods market by engaging various value chains emphasising on the cost of doing business and adopting new technologies to improve our business processes’ efficiencies. The continuous discussions and implementation of the innovation hubs agenda to bring improved quality and value creation by our industry will be another key pillar.”
Phiri said how easy it is to start a business, availability of enabling infrastructure and protection of investments (which the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency is doing well) are some of the blocks that will propel Zimbabwe to below 100 on the ease of doing business ranking.
“The Annual Competitiveness Report will be a document that will inform policymakers and the general public on where Zimbabwe is in as far as competitiveness is concerned,” he said.
Seven months into the job, the executive described his experience as a great challenge but exciting “knowing that you are part of a process which is targeting achieving better lives for our citizens as we move towards an upper-middle-income economy”.
“Operationalising a public entity like this Commission, which has a huge mandate, is no walk-in the park. From coming up with a strategic plan, structure, systems, and procedures to contending with a lot of issues that the private sector is raising is an enormous task,” he said, adding the walk was being made lighter with the support of Ministry of Industry and Commerce, NCC board, staff and various government ministries and agencies including fellow CEOs of public entities.
The NCC, Phiri said, exists to enhance Zimbabwe’s global competitiveness.
“By enhancing domestic and international competitiveness through various programmes and interventions coupled with evidence-based development, coordination, and implementation of key policy improvements we are doing our part in Zimbabwe’s journey towards Vision 2030,” he said.
The NCC last week held a session with business member organisations (BMOs), government ministries and regulatory bodies. Phiri said stakeholders have an appreciation of NCC’s mandate of facilitating the creation of a competitive environment for business through the development, coordination and implementation of key policy improvements required for domestic, regional and global competitiveness.
“There is a close working relationship between the Commission and BMO’s. Frameworks of collaboration have already been established with the BMOs given that buy-in by stakeholders is critical and lack of ownership/ involvement of key stakeholders can weigh on the competitiveness envisioned strategies and programmes,” the executive said.
BMOs, Phiri said, are concerned about the escalating cost drivers which emanate from the macroeconomic fundamentals such as high interest rates, lack of savings, inflation, high cost of utilities such as fuel and power and labour costs. He said the cost drivers also emanate from the shortage of foreign currency as well as business regulations and procedures which weigh on the ease of doing business compared to other countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Mauritius, among others.
“In an effort to address concerns, the Commission has since embarked on stakeholder engagements in-order to have consensus on how to contain costs escalations and foster viability of various value chains while ensuring availability and affordability of commodities to consumers. The Commission is conducting value chain analysis to come up with recommendations to address the challenges,” Phiri said.
The executive said he is building on his experience after a stint at ZimTrade and having worked in the retail, hospitality and manufacturing sectors.
“As the Operations Director at ZimTrade I interfaced and dealt with a number of government policies and regulatory issues that affected the ease of doing export business. I also dealt with a number of sectors where Zimbabwe has a comparative advantage and at NCC we will come up with programmes that enhance comparative advantage into competitive advantage,” Phiri said.
He was also exposed to dealing with policy makers BMOs and development cooperation partners who are also major stakeholders in the competitiveness agenda.
“I also gained international markets experience, including interfacing with comparator countries’ trade and governance bodies which will be instrumental in our quest for international competitiveness. From the private sector having worked in the manufacturing, hospitality and retail sectors, the experience grounded me in understanding what the private sector undergoes if the regulatory business environment is not competitive,” he said.
The NDS1, Phiri said, highlights the need for a private sector-led economic recovery and an inclusive engagement of the productive sectors. This is important in the creation of an efficient demand condition and fostering industry interconnectedness and support (moving the economy up the value chains).
“My industry experience has proved to me that it is possible for firms to develop eccentric/personalised practices based on strong domestic demand only to be blindsided by different prevailing conditions in the global market,” the executive said.
Born and bred in Bulawayo, Phiri said his family drives him daily to keep on pushing no matter how tough things may get. A holder of an MBA, Bachelor of Commerce degree in Marketing and Executive Diploma in Business Leadership among other qualifications, the executive’s passion is entrepreneurship and youth development.
“I enjoy gospel music and preaching the word of God. I believe that every person has a role to play in society no matter how small it may seem,” he said.
Phiri makes no apologies for being a devoted Christian and values contributing to bigger agendas economically, socially and personally.
“I always thrive to be relevant here on Earth as well and hence my personal philosophy is Heavenly focused and Earthly relevant,” the executive said.
Phiri draws inspiration from Jeremiah 29 vs 11 which gives him confidence “even if things seem not to be working because I know God has a purpose for me and he is faithful to fulfil this”. The executive also draws inspiration from his mother and late father who gave the “grounding in Christ, respect for authority and to work hard for everything in life above all upholding honesty and love for family”.
A member of the church’s men fellowship, Phiri said it gives him the ability to handle life issues and deal with social dynamics. He enjoys reading business books, creating music beats, and playing basketball
Phiri is currently reading Leadershift by John C Maxwell, Hard Things about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, and Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage of Nations.
“The first 2 books impact on my ability to shift my leadership skills and adjust to the current trends especially in a fast-evolving global economy, the other books although it focuses on entrepreneurship helped me to deal with difficulties you face in leading a new organisation.
The third book is relevant to the subject of national competitiveness and explains from a global perspective the subject of competitiveness and the determinants,” he said.