Has Mugabe finally opened his eyes?

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s admission that government has been carrying the burden of most parastatals that were under-performing must have been surprising for many.

Mugabe disclosed during an interface meeting with business at State House on Thursday where he also said Cabinet had decided to close parastatals because, instead of contributing to economic development, the State-owned companies have become a burden on the fiscus.

However, one wonders whether it would have taken this long — close to four decades now — for Mugabe to see that parastatals were bleeding the national economy as they are plagued by high overheads, inter-parastatal debts, maladministration, undercapitalisation, poor corporate governance, nepotism and corruption among other ills.

In her State Enterprises and Parastatals Report of 2016, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri named Zesa Holdings (Zesa) and its subsidiaries; TelOne, Grain Marketing Board (GMB), National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), and others as the main State-owned entities draining Treasury without contributing anything towards the national fiscus.

Perhaps Mugabe’s Zanu PF government should have first tried to probe why the entities were heading south instead of north as expected. The reasons must be all too clear.

Zanu PF’s populist policies over the years from independence were never going to be consistent with running them as businesses.

It is even surprising that government has been sinking billions into these corporations with the full knowledge that they were not performing. It sounds hypocritical that Mugabe, who superintended over their gradual collapse would now want to announce a decision he was supposed to have actioned decades ago.

Calls for government to stop ploughing resources into State-owned corporations that were not making a profit were frequent and loud for anyone who cared to listen.

Mugabe may not have wanted to listen then probably because it did not appear consistent with his political gamesmanship.

But again, Zimbabweans are not that docile as to applaud a decision that is coming this late when the harm has already been done. Some of these parastatals are already beyond redemption and the few that appear operational are doing so at a huge loss.

What makes Mugabe’s sincerity doubtful is the thumbs-up he had given the failed Essar deal, including the $1 billion from Chinese investor Zhang Li’s R&F — touted as saviour to Ziscosteel, the recent $400 million NRZ-Transnet Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group recapitalisation project among others whose fate is fairly predictable. To make matters worse, taxpayers are today coughing up money towards the RBZ Debt Assumption Bill — railroaded through Parliament a couple of years back without disclosing the names of the beneficiaries.

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