ZIMBABWE’S unemployment levels are set to surge to new record highs following indications from government that it is now determined to reinstitute the formal way of doing business in a country that has been rundown by lawlessness wrought by the rise of the informal sector.
Zimbabwe, which is currently trailing at 171 out of 189 economies under the World Bank ease of doing business rankings and having admitted last week through Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa that the southern African nation had lost 15 years of economic development, is under increasing pressure to reestablish the rule of law in order to attract much-needed foreign direct investment.
However, with the country’s economy now virtually informalised, reinstituting the formal way of doing things, as also espoused in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation blueprint, without providing immediate solutions to the country’s serious economic challenges would plunge the nation into fresh misery.
Formal employment is currently estimated to be well below 20 percent, while more than 80 percent of employable people are either redundant or struggling to make ends meet in the informal sector.
And intentions by the Harare City Council, which is presently battling to remove hundreds of vendors from the capital city’s streets, to ban thousands of commuter omnibuses from using the capital’s roads, will definitely create new challenges for the country.
As the country’s economy shrunk over the past decade or so, all activities had now become concentrated on Harare, meaning that the city had naturally developed into the centre of opportunity for everyone.
For example, there are an estimated 4 500 commuter omnibuses that are legally operating in Harare, while another 2 000 are operating illegally.
Consequently, more than 14 000 jobs hang in the balance if government throws caution to the wind and allow HCC to drive commuter operators out of business without widely consulting all stakeholders.
Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Obert Mpofu, who earlier this year indicated that government was planning to completely outlaw the importation of minibuses being used as commuter transport countrywide with the view of removing from them Zimbabwe’s transport system altogether by 2016, said the State was now reviewing the issue.
“We are going to come up with a workable programme that will be guided by a consultative process between all stakeholders. We do not intend to just push commuter operators out of business; we are exploring a phased approach to the whole issue,” said Mpofu.
Urban Commuter Operators of Zimbabwe president, Simbarashe Ngarande, expressed concern that commuter omnibus operators are currently not being involved in the implementation of the National Transport Policy that seeks to decongest the country’s town by introducing conventional buses.
Describing the relations between government, local authorities and commuter omnibus operators as “chaotic” at the moment, Ngarande said: “As it is, it appears there will be nothing for us in the new set up. We don’t see how all those commuter omnibus operators, who have been compliant and following regulations, will benefit. It’s not even viable for any of them to sell their minibuses to buy the bigger buses.”
With rough estimates showing that the country has more than 50 000 commuter omnibuses that employ over 100 000 people, rearranging the country’s transport system will not be an easy stroll in the park.