FINANCE Minister Patrick Chinamasa’s job must be the toughest and yet most thankless in the world.
Given the ruling ZANU-PF party’s proclivity for populism at the expense of sound economic sense or just plain common sense, the finance portfolio has been a huge problem for the long list of Treasury chiefs since 1980.
From 1980, successive finance ministers have been reduced to mere firefighters who douse infernos lit by the ruling party’s populist policies.
In early 2015, Chinamasa announced that government had suspended bonus payments for civil servants.
As the man with the keys to government’s vault, he knew that Treasury’s coffers were running empty, and could not afford the thirteenth cheque for civil servants who number up to 570 000.
But President Robert Mugabe quickly reversed Chinamasa’s decision in line with his party’s populist agenda.
It’s now January 2016 and that bonus has not yet been paid.
Chinamasa is the one who has to explain.
His predecessors, from the late Bernard Chidzero to Simba Makoni to Tendai Biti all had their own testimonies of how the governing ZANU-PF party would weigh heavily on them to loosen the purse strings even when it’s down to its last dime, so long as political expediency demanded so.
Sound economic advice has, in the past and now, been ignored by the ruling party without even batting an eyelid, if it stood in the way of ZANU-PF’s political goals.
President Mugabe once branded then finance minister, Makoni, and former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, Leonard Tsumba, as enemies of the State for pushing for the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar and labelled their motives sinister.
The Zimbabwe dollar was later to be bulldozed out of circulation by hyper-inflation years after the two men had left office.
Japanese economist and researcher, Ken Yamamoto, who has written extensively on Zimbabwe, has been vexed by ZANU-PF’s approach to economics, particularly its belief that governments do not get broke.
In one article, Yamamoto expressed his shock at the belief that: “Government can borrow as much as it wants.”
This is what Zimbabwe’s finance ministers must deal with.
Confronted by raw facts of a dying economy, Chinamasa has on more than one occasion abandoned politically convenient arguments and admitted the obvious.
According to Yamamoto, the Finance Ministry is a proper university of hard knocks.
“When you lead that ministry, you are faced with digits, or numbers: Hard cold facts that hammer your face back to reality. In that job, playing to the gallery, political rhetoric, rigging or propaganda worketh not because after engaging in it, you still have to pay the bills,” he says.
That Chinamasa has sobered up ever since taking up the portfolio in 2013 is self-evident.
His misgivings about the indigenisation policy and the battle that he has had to face to get a more investor-friendly document are a case in point.
In December, the usually combative and aggressive Chinamasa cut a forlorn and uncharacteristically subdued figure during the presentation of the findings of the Making Access Possible Diagnostic survey on financial inclusion.
The survey was done through a partnership between the Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion, the United Nations Capital Development Fund and FinMark Trust.
Some of the things that came out of the survey could make ZANU-PF’s blood boil.
For instance, the researchers pointed out that only 0,04 percent of Zimbabwe’s farmers could be classified as commercial, with the remaining 99,96 percent merely subsistence producers.
Beneficiaries of the A2 land scheme, who were and are supposed to carry out and revive commercial farming, could not be classified as such because the income derived from their activities was too low or even nonexistent.
This is in a context where 51 percent of adults reported farming as a secondary or primary source of income.
Chinamasa also admitted recently that the Chinese were entitled to bring in their own labour and equipment to carry out projects supported by loans sourced from their banks.
China EximBank is there to serve Chinese interests, he said.
So much for the political rhetoric that China is Zimbabwe’s all-weather friend.
Just like Chinamasa’s former counterpart in South Africa, Nhlanhla Nene recently found out, to stay in a job that you feel its demands do not subscribe to the laws of economics, you simply must pander to the whims of the one who appointed you.
•Born Patrick Anthony Chinamasa on January 25, 1947;
•Member of Parliament for Makoni Central;
•Holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Law from the University of London (1971) and a Diploma in Law from the University of Zimbabwe;
•Former Partner at Honey and Blackenberg;
•Former Senior partner at P.A Chinamasa, Manyika & Co;
•Former Deputy Minister of Agriculture;
•Former Attorney General and;
•Former Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
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