THE distinction between what is normal and abnormal is not a matter of black and white but more like different shades of grey. I have however reached a decisive conclusion that what is happening in Zimbabwe is far from normal. Unlike my prior articles where I analyse problems and proffer solutions, this week I am just going to leave some questions hanging in your mind – my aim is to simply plant seeds of thought. I believe that the starting point for us to eventually solve our problems is to first of all compare how we do things versus how other countries approach similar issues.
I admire the way in which unemployment figures are regularly released in the United States. They literally track the numbers of jobs that were created and the market reacts to that information depending on whether it was below or above expectations. Here in Zimbabwe however, we don’t do that. We actually change the definition of employment to incorporate vendors, people who sell airtime and even the dealers who loiter around the NSSA parking bays. We appear to be a nation of learned people – I have actually lost count of how many universities we have but one thing that I have seen is that the only employment that universities guarantee is that of their own staff and not of their graduates. If you visit the websites of universities in other countries, they provide you with statistics of where their alumni are working. Here in Zimbabwe, universities don’t even bother to follow up.
Recently, there have been plans to make it easier for every Zimbabwean to access formal financial services. This is a great plan, but if you were to compare the level of regulatory protection we have versus what other countries have, you will realise that we are actually lucky that people still agree to have their salaries deposited into banks! I mean if the system only insures US$500 of deposits in the bank, why should someone save more than that amount? Last year I started a pro bono pension advisory service as a way to give back to society and my experience has led me to believe that the insurance and banking sector need a formal ombudsman service that can help depositors and policyholders who may have complaints. Most of the issues that I have handled are so petty and are due to things like poor communication – but it is these issues that are planting seeds of distrust towards financial service providers.
Another strange thing I have witnessed here in Zimbabwe is a lack of information. Take the education system for starters. It is so effortless for me to download the syllabus and full set of test papers for an examination board that is half way across the globe e.g. Cambridge than to obtain similar information from the local examinations board. Surely, selling a copy of a subject syllabus in this day and age is uncalled for. The same holds true for most Statutory Instruments that are released here in Zim. You can’t find them anywhere online and actually have to buy a hard copy. It makes one wonder why these organisations bother to have websites in the first place when they treat such documents with a level of secrecy that is worthy to be used for Russian nuclear submarine blueprints.
Zimbabwe seems to be also fond of forensic audits. We have seen this at PSMAS, NSSA and recently in the diamond sector (just to mention a few). It actually repels the mind to learn of things that were taking place in some of these institutions. I for one have always advocated for mandatory risk management and governance standards but it appears that Zimbabweans prefer crisis management instead. I find it strange that important pension institutions such as the National Social Security and the Insurance and Pensions regulator do not have a resident actuary. That is something you only see in Zimbabwe.
Does anyone remember the word ‘Jatropha’ and that we have a bio diesel plant that was constructed a couple of years ago to mostly process Jatropha seeds? I wonder why we never hear of any talk about it anymore. Is it still functioning, what level of output is it producing, what about the jatropha farmers – are they seeing a return on their investment? With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if it was a wise decision to build a biodiesel plant from scratch when today our Feruka oil plant is in a dilapidated state. How could we develop a state of the art bio-diesel plant (one of the biggest in the world for that matter) when we don’t have the Jatropha crops – which take years to mature? How many other decisions are being made without carrying out a feasibility study? I heard that a new parliament building is being built and there a plans to build a new city. Is this wise given the fact that the cities we have don’t have running water and the roads are full of potholes?
I love this country so much and if I were to try and measure the passion that I have to see Zimbabwe prosper, I would probably equate it to how Cecil Rhodes had a passion to see the British race prosper. What repels me the most however is the way in which our society has disregarded the value of education. It is no longer a given that the best company will win a tender or that the most intelligent individual will get the job at an interview. It has become a question of who do you know rather than what do you know.Zimbabwe is a strange country.
Thomas Sithole is an Actuarial Analyst (Enterprise Risk Management) at Bluecroft Actuarial Solutions. Please refer to his corporate profile on this web address to contact him: thomas.bluecroftsolutions.com
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