Made in tight spot
WITH President Robert Mugabe under pressure to leave a lasting and impressionable legacy after leading the country for more than three decades that saw Zimbabwe’s fortunes plummeting from being a regional breadbasket to a basket case, the veteran nationalist has uncharacteristically started to crack the whip to ensure his ministers deliver on the party’s election promises.
The Financial Gazette can exclusively reveal that first on the spot on an immediate task to deliver is Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation, Joseph Made, who was tasked this week to prepare a comprehensive report for presentation to Cabinet on how he intends to tackle multifaceted challenges gripping the agricultural sector.
As the new ZANU-PF government hits the ground running, it finds itself having to deal with food shortages, with estimates suggesting that 2,2 million people require urgent food aid until the next harvest in April.
Top on government’s agenda is to stop a recurrence of the situation by ensuring that adequate inputs such as fertilisers, seed and chemicals are available countrywide before the rain season, which begins later this month.
Tied to this is the availability of agricultural equipment to prepare the land, weed the crop and harvest it when the time comes not to mention the attendant expertise to give technical advice to farmers, the majority of whom lack the requisite skills to produce a good harvest.
For President Mugabe, agriculture occupies a special place in his heart more than any other sector, in the sense that Zimbabwe pioneered its own brand of land reforms when his government seized commercial farms from the minority whites in 2000 and parcelled them to landless blacks whose biggest handicap has been lack of skills and funding.
The exercise has, however, attracted criticism which threatens his legacy after it decimated agricultural production and pulled the whole economy down, a situation his government is desperate to reverse.
Made has therefore found himself in a tight spot whereby he must deliver even though it is quite clear that Treasury has no money to lessen his burden.
Also walking a tight rope is Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa who has a herculean task of funding government operations from a shoestring budget. Mike Bimha, the Industry and Commerce Minister is also under pressure to revive industry, grow the economic cake and create jobs.
Made has been directed by President Mugabe to ensure that his plans eliminate last minute scramble for inputs as had been the case in recent years due to poor planning and government’s policy failures.
The Minister of State in the President’s Office, Didymus Mutasa, confirmed yesterday that Made had been assigned to deal with these issues to ensure a successful farming season and had made some presentations to the country’s leadership.
“We are quite happy with what he has done so far following the task he has been given. There are some resources that have been mobilised, but I don’t know why people are not releasing that information to you (media). Maybe they are working on it,” said Mutasa.
While Made could not be reached immediately for comment, he held a joint press conference earlier yesterday with Chinamasa where it was highlighted that government acknowledged the need to honour outstanding payments to input suppliers, which currently undermine their capacity to support agriculture.
Delayed payments to farmers would also be addressed to avoid compromising their capacity to prepare for the coming season.
Made told journalists that government was implementing a US$161 million input support programme to enable farmers to grow maize and small grains, including livestock production during the 2013/14 season.
He broke down the allocated components of the input programme as follows: Seed to cost US$39 million, Compound D US$50,5 million, Ammonia Nitrate US$56,9 million and Lime US$11,4 million.
Other costs highlighted included the District Development Fund tractor rehabilitation programme US$530 000 and the Grain Marketing Board handling costs (US$2,6 million).
Chinamasa said government was in talks with banks to support A1 and commercial farmers (A2).
“Discussions are not yet finalised but tentative indications are that most of the agricultural financial facilities would soon be concluded,” he said.
“It will be, however, necessary that lending to A1 and commercial farmers is not only timely but also affordable in order not to strangle farmers’ preparations for the forthcoming season,” added Chinamasa.
He said agricultural facilities by banks were over and above contract farming arrangements that farmers could enter into as well as use of farmers’ own resources.
The close collaboration between the ministries of agriculture and finance seem to indicate the need for a joint programmes intended to strengthen delivery by the government to live up to the President’s call and, by extension, the party’s manifesto.
The ZANU-PF leader has previously insisted that his party would deliver on its election promises following his poll victory that Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai says were rigged.
President Mugabe’s push for his ministers to deliver comes at a time when the latest Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) manufacturing sector survey has pointed out that growth is now receding following its rebound in 2009, when dollarisation was introduced and the inclusive government was formed.
President Mugabe, in power for 33 uninterrupted years and seen as desperate to leave a legacy, is jolting his ministers to perform.
As part of that initiative, a number of ministers have been consulting their respective constituencies while the President’s Office has also put in motion consultations with industry for policy formulation.
CZI, the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines and other business organisations have since been asked to submit proposals on how they felt government should deal with the country’s economy.
Over the weekend, Vice President Joice Mujuru revealed performance contracts would be introduced for senior government officials, adding that failure was not an option.
If the presidium’s calls for sterling performance are anything to go by, ZANU-PF’s current term in office may not be ‘business as usual’. Things will be different, the mood seems to indicate.
But observers contend that even though the ZANU-PF government has come up with excellent blueprints to solve the country’s challenges over the years, the real challenge has been in implementation.