ZimAsset fails to prop up Mugabe

HARARE - What should have been President Robert Mugabe’s finest hour may be becoming his darkest.

Mugabe admitted at a crucial meeting of his ruling Zanu PF party on Friday in Masvingo, 292km south of Harare, that his five-year economic plan — which requires $27 billion in funding and aimed at improving basic services and rebuilding the impoverished country, was failing.

This vindicates opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who had warned that ZimAsset was just a “statement of intent” that was “un-fundable and un-implementable.”

It is a bitter irony for a right-wing leader who fought fierce battles with critics over his “bad” stewardship of the economy precisely because, he said, he was determined to give the Zimbabwean people the prosperity they deserve.
Mugabe told the annual conclave that is seeking to breathe new life into the economy that the ambitious plan must not be allowed to fail.

“(ZimAsset) must succeed and let us ensure that the projects and programmes succeed. Let us ensure that the daunting programme succeeds,” he pleaded with the 7 000 delegates at the conference, running under the theme “Moving with ZimAsset in Peace and Unity.”
Mugabe declared that the conference’s theme was “both timely and relevant”, and that all options must be weighed to counter an economic slump some fear will lead to recession, adding the ruling party will come up with ways to give the economy a lift.

As economic indicators worsen, the pressed ruling Zanu PF will be eager to jump on remedial measures to calm voters’ jitters, just two years before presidential and parliamentary elections are held in 2018.
“As delegates, we are all expected to actively debate and offer solutions for our country’s economic recovery in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and commerce, in tourism, infrastructure and in several other areas,” Mugabe said.

“At this conference, we anticipate robust, frank, informed and informing ministers’ and committees’ presentations and delegates’ subsequent discussions.”
The ruling Zanu PF’s five-year economic blueprint was supposed to steer the country forward at an average growth of 7,2 percent per annum.

But the global lender, World Bank, has said growth this year was slower than the government’s estimate of 2,7 percent, with Zimbabwe’s economy growing by a meagre 1,5 percent in 2016 and consumer prices remaining deflationary due to global and local constraints.
The 129-page ZimAsset document, which details a plan stretching to 2018 for the economy, outlines plans including the sale of bonds, securitisation of remittances, re-engagement with international finance institutions and the creation of special economic zones.

Financing options were supposed to focus on Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a group of large emerging market nations collectively known as BRICS, but the plans have all fell through.
This comes as the economy is collapsing; cash and fuel supplies dwindling, and State coffers dry that the regime struggles to pay salaries or bonuses, with public-sector strikes, street protests, and desertions by key allies.

The prevailing cash shortages have not helped matters, with banks now giving out bond coins and notes to depositors withdrawing cash, while withdrawal limits have been slashed to $50 or $100 per day.
The official opening yesterday followed a meeting of the central committee and the politburo, one of the party’s elite ruling bodies, chaired by Mugabe.

After two running years of failed rains that have pummelled farmers, Mugabe said a generous rainy season remains the only way to relieve distress and boost the economy.
Two successive years of scanty showers and severe El Nino-induced drought has caused acute distress in all districts across the states. About 5 million people have been adversely affected, according to the United Nations.

“Our conference is taking place at a time when the heavens have happily opened, blessing us with heavy showers that point to a promising agricultural season,” Mugabe said.
Besides cheering farmers, a normal rainy season will replenish reservoirs and mitigate a crippling water shortage in most parts of the country.

Zimbabwe’s main reservoirs hold merely 37,7 percent of their storage capacity, which is 30 percent less water compared with a year ago, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) said in its latest weekly update last week.
“Despite the rains, no inflows have been recorded in most of the country’s major dams with only a few dams recording slight increases in water levels,” Zinwa spokesperson Marjorie Munyonga said.

The stored water has been rapidly declining in recent months. The dramatic fall in run-off has been caused by successive years of declining rainfall, which has led to a drop in groundwater levels within dams’ catchment areas.
Meetings such as the ongoing one are formally called “annual people’s conference”, are typically held every year as the party’s most important event of the year and tend to map out major policies for the years ahead.

The gathering is likely to be the second last plenum before the party holds its five-yearly congress, expected sometime in 2018, where Mugabe will cement his power and possibly anoint a successor.
A number of prominent economists have been warning of recession risks and urging the government to give the economy a fiscal boost.

Insiders said discussions on an economic stimulus plan are expected to reach a detailed stage at the conference, to avert social instability.
Senior administration officials are showing clear signs of concern about how the slump and related market strains are being felt around the country.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, in his annual budget address last week, admitted the country was facing “a number of headwinds”, including a lack of investment flows and remittances from Zimbabweans overseas, both of which dropped precipitously this year.
While the administration is trying to broker an economic revival plan, critics have said it is too little, too late.

In a telephone interview, a senior Zanu PF central committee member said, “Well, these (economic) discussions are ongoing right now. I can tell you, there is an appreciation that some people in this economy are hurting.”

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