THE ease of doing business in Zimbabwe — a topical issue that has jolted authorities to rally behind initiatives meant to attract both local and foreign investment into the country — is also being affected by the long periods it takes for one to get construction permits and property registration.
This emerged during a doing business reform workshop last week where delegates bemoaned the use of building inspectors by local authorities as one of the factors increasing the scope for corruption.
“Building inspectors are supposed to come and inspect at each level in the construction process, but sometimes they have no transport or are not available or want a ‘facilitation fee’,” one delegate at the workshop indicated.
The workshop was facilitated by the Office of the President and Cabinet, which is working with the World Bank on implementing the reforms.
“Zimbabwe made registering property more expensive by increasing the conveyance’s fees,” said a statement from the World Bank, which also pointed out that the country made dealing with construction permits more difficult by imposing inspections by the chief building inspector or deputy chief inspector.
Meanwhile, obtaining water connections from local authorities was said to have become more problematic and time consuming.
The country has, however, made progress in other areas such as the provision of credit scores by the credit bureau.
Zimbabwe has also been credited with strengthening minority investor protections by introducing provisions allowing legal practitioners to enter into contingency fee agreements with clients.
In the regulation of the labour market, the contentious Supreme Court ruling of July 17, 2015, which reduced the severance payment obligation applicable in case of redundancy dismissals, was highlighted as a plus for business reforms.
Despite some of these gains, Zimbabwe still ranks dismally when it comes to the World Bank’s ease of doing business global rankings for 2016.
Among some of the key indicators, such as starting a business, the southern African nation is ranked number 182 out of 189 countries, having been ranked at 179 last year.
When it comes to the issue of construction permits, Zimbabwe sits at number 184, up one place from the previous year.
For registering a company, Zimbabwe maintained its 2015 position at number 114.
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing permanent secretary, George Mlilo, acknowledged the problem with the use of building inspectors and pledged to look into the issue saying the new benchmark of 120 days for the approval of a construction permit was still too long.
“There is no reason why the process should take so long. Everything should be finished at submission point. When the papers are submitted they should meet the standards, especially when people use professional drafters. It should be reduced even to one week.
“I have written to the chief secretary to the President and Cabinet on the meeting I will have with all the local authorities on the ease of doing business. We are working on it and it should be in place soon,” Mlilo said.
Misheck Sibanda, the chief secretary to the President and Cabinet admitted that raising Zimbabwe’s position on the global competitiveness index would help attract increasingly risk averse and nimble footed investors.
“They will promptly move their investments from less efficient destinations that are characterised by bureaucratic lethargy and red tape, to more efficient and responsive markets,” he said.
Ease of doing business must not be at the expense of biotechnology safety standards and the government must make use of local experts to ensure that food imports are of the right standards.
Zimbabwe has been making moves to increase business contacts with the rest of the world and is currently working on improving its macroeconomic environment.
Jonathan Mufandaedza, the registrar and chief executive officer of the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe (NBA), said that his organisation was well placed and available to offer government advice on biotechnology protection.
The NBA was established through the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe Act of 2006 and given the role “to transform the country from a raw material-based into a knowledge-based economy through the judicious application of biotechnology in agriculture, medicine, energy and the environment”.
“When you talk of technology transfer into the country and in the form of high risk category nature or involving microorganisms then we need to look into and advise the government on safety issues that are attendant to that particular project,” Mufandaedza said.
He explained that there were many examples of such projects.
“There are so many examples given that emerging technologies are at the centre of the products we see today. Even diseases that we see today are related to biotechnology. Even the anthrax which is a problem in Zimbabwe is a result of these technologies,” he explained.
The growth of biotechnology in Zimbabwe, in both food production and medicine, has been curtailed by public misconceptions on genetically modified organisms (GMO) and a ban on GMO products and seed.
Biotechnology experts argue for the lifting of the ban on GMOs in Zimbabwe, saying it is not feasible to produce enough food to ensure food security using traditional methods.
With the country facing massive food shortages due to the El-Nino induced drought some will be looking into biotechnology as a source of salvation for the crippled food production and agricultural system.
Others, however, argue that if Zimbabwe is to adopt biotechnology-driven agriculture there is need for comprehensive, evidence-based research trials to equip all the relevant actors with adequate information.
ZANU-PF’s secretary for science and technology, Jonathan Moyo, told delegates at the party’s conference last year that government had established additional biosafety sub offices for control of harmful products at Kazungula, Harare International Airport, Nyamapanda and Victoria Falls.
This brings to eight, the total number of biosafety offices set up at the country’s ports of entry and exit.