WE read with a mixture of sadness and pleasant surprise comments made by acting Finance and Economic Development Minister, Walter Chidhakwa, two weeks ago. Speaking at a World Bank sponsored workshop for heads of parastatals, Chidhakwa fired a broadside at free falling parastatals’ chairpersons for making politically-motivated decisions instead of executing their professional mandates.
It is really pleasing to note that the message appears to be now sinking into the heads of some in the seemingly impervious Executive that political muscle-flexing in the affairs of State-run firms has inflicted irreparable damage to these enterprises. Sadly, Chidhakwa was speaking to the converted.
His fellow Cabinet ministers could have been the right audience for this important message because, for a long time, they have needlessly interfered in the day-to-day operations of parastatals, making non-commercial decisions that have left State-run enterprises in the doldrums, and thousands out of employment. How many times have we heard, for instance, that State CEOs have been axed because they refused to toe a political line?
And how many times have we seen board members or CEOs of State firms being appointed not on merit, but because they are on the right side of the political turf? Everyone would remember how a Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation editor was forced out by an information minister for asking him inconvenient questions on television.
It is not surprising that under the circumstances, heads of State companies have become pliant figureheads with little decisions to make.
They have to wait for directives from their line ministries to take action.
More often than not, their directives would be politically motivated and barren of commercial sense. The endless hunt for a strategic partner for Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) is one case in point.
Politicians have surprisingly given themselves the mandate to scout for this strategic partner, who has to pour in not less than US$300 million to rebuild the airline. They have bypassed a full board that is running the affairs of AirZim, as well as a team of fully fledged professional executives.
The result has been endless red tape, papers going forwards and backwards countless times, and a string of expensive meetings in exquisite hotels.
In the meantime, AirZim is headed for the swamps.
Also, in 2014, former energy minister, Dzikamai Mavhaire, unilaterally reversed the Electricity Amendment Act passed by Parliament during the inclusive government that would have paved the way for the restructuring of power company, ZESA Holdings Limited.
Now, we wonder which CEO or board chairperson would have dared to confront Mavhaire without risking their jobs. The tragedy is that these State firms, which number about 105, are key players in the country’s economy, generating 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product when operating at full throttle.
But, sadly, they have been severely run down through political interference, and their current situation has become so deplorable that they have become a drain on public funds. They have become serious liabilities that are weighing down the fiscus.
So, we implore Chidhakwa and his Cabinet colleagues to take a hard look at themselves and change course seeing how political interference is contributing to the demise of Zimbabwe’s economy before they move to blame their haplessly powerless appointees. Still, it is refreshing that Chidhakwa is among those who have finally seen the light.
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