The appointment of technocrat, Mthuli Ncube, as the new Minister of Finance and Economic Development was clearly a breath of fresh air judging by the response from the business community and the country at large, but Ncube must be mindful that the task ahead is a daunting one.
So gigantic is his mission that his work will not be judged through statements that he will deliver, but what he delivers on the ground. Put simply, the task at hand is about action, action and action.
The new minister has so far offered charming interviews to the local and international press, and on paper he is the right man for the job, complete with his impeccable background and curriculum vitae that will leave anyone green with envy.
However, Ncube is not the first revered technocrat to have taken charge of the Finance portfolio in Zimbabwe and names such as Bernard Chidzero, Tichaendepi Masaya, Simba Makoni, Hebert Murerwa, Tendai Biti, Samuel Mumbengegwi and recently Patrick Chinamasa come into mind.
Taking over from Masaya in 1985, Chidzero became one of the most unpopular Finance ministers amongst the ruling elite after he introduced his Zimbabwean version of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme which ZANU PF stalwarts felt the economic programmes were ill-timed and denying them access to “rewards of their war effort.”
Masaya, Makoni and Murerwa were politicians from the ruling party and equally good as Finance ministers, but their efforts were in vain in as much as Biti and Chinamasa who came in as lawyers in the same portfolio.
One would have expected Chinamasa and Biti to succeed where their predecessors failed because they could enact laws to ease their work, but they were unsuccessful. Mumbengegwi holds a PhD in Education curriculum development, but also struggled
. Herein lies our point.
Ncube must be careful not to put the cart before the horse as he kick-starts his uphill mandate to take the economy out of the woods.
Minister Ncube says his immediate task was to tackle the on-going currency crisis by month-end and that he expects to retire the quasi bond note currency soon and introduce a local unit before the end of his five-year tenure. The bond notes were introduced in November 2016 in a bid to ease the cash shortages but instead fuelled the black market.
The minister said he wants to accelerate plans to pay $1,8 billion in arrears to the World Bank and the African Development Bank – seen as a vital step towards Zimbabwe qualifying for aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – but did not say how he would do it. He also said he was keen to focus on addressing challenges facing the health sector as he has vast experience on health financing.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of a drug shortage blamed on the shortages of foreign currency.
“I’m so passionate about the health sector and most people don’t realise that I am also an expert on the economics of HIV which I have written about globally. I have also supported institutions in Geneva on how to allocate resources in the health sector globally and I am very passionate on making sure that the (Health) ministry works well,” he said. Ncube added he would also come up with indicators of development saying, “if I am managing money and I am giving it out, I want to monitor those indicators and have a development impact and have a sense that people are feeling the impact of the development”.
The country is experiencing a liquidity crisis, which is a manifestation of structural deficiencies and distortions in the economy. Progress was made in improving the business climate, but governance and accountability remain problematic.
While his intentions are noble and well meaning, the absence of a clear stratagem (at least one that the public can reference) leaves one taking his promises with a pinch of salt. Whether playing his cards so close to his chest is part of the plan, or whether he is using his new-found position (and advantage) as minister to delve deeper into a fact-finding mission in order to shape his solutions, the fact remains that the waters ahead remain murky. Perhaps time and chance will provide a conducive environment to cultivate change that his predecessors had very little success implementing. At this point, only time will tell. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, we have very little time left before we fall down the economic rabbit