Tackle root cause, not symptoms

HARARE - Zimbabwe's celebrated music superstar, Oliver Mtukudzi, has a popular song titled Handiro Dambudziko, which has lyrics that go — Kushingirira kurapa mhopo pamusana...mhopo iripamusana iwe uneziso rinembonje.

Translated to English, this means putting much effort in curing the symptom but not the root cause.

And that has been the disappointing approach by Zimbabwe’s government in addressing the country’s mounting woes.

In yet another move which proves that, Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha has announced the easing of import controls, amid skyrocketing prices and looming shortages of basics. He argues the move will guarantee availability of basic commodities and stable prices in the forthcoming festive season, during which demand will be predictably high.

Bimha is quoted in a local daily as saying: “...we want to call upon companies and individuals who have free funds to import basic commodities...”

While emphasising that the recently introduced archaic, tried and failed price monitoring system will be further enforced, he went on to say: “You will recall that some of the basic commodities were removed from the Open General Import Licence and were now covered under various Statutory Instruments (SI), including SI 64 of 2016.”

“But as we had said time and time again, these SIs such SI 64 of 2016 were not intended to ban the importation of products but were intended to regulate their importation and where we believe that there is demand exceeding supply we will obviously want to facilitate the importation of such commodities which is the case in point because of the demand as a result of the coming festive season and again because of the limited foreign currency available to local producers we would want to make sure that those with free funds be they individuals or companies they should come forward to obtain the necessary permits and licences to bring products into the market.”

Well and fine. For sure, basic commodities need to be available. Though, not only during the festive season.

The approach must be to ensure basics are available all the time. But crucially, relaxing the import controls is not the solution to the price increases — inflationary pressures — Zimbabwe is now facing.

This crisis is not happening in isolation. It’s a mere symptom of a much bigger, unaddressed — probably conveniently ignored — problem.

There is a root cause to this deepening crisis.

And Bimha’s appeal to those with “free funds” to import goods is a clear admission that the desperate measures imposed by government are failing to curb the crisis.

But while other stakeholders — who have been hurt so many times by government’s ill-advised policies while they remain silent — could be afraid of telling authorities the brutal truth, Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu, seems to have bit the bullet.

Government must address the root cause, he insists.

“Price hikes are an indicator that the economy is not well and there’s need for a holistic approach to solve the current foreign currency shortages and increase production,” Mutashu told a local weekly recently.

“When government makes it easy for companies to increase production, prices will automatically tumble. The recent price increases show that there’s a shortage somewhere in the economy,” he said, adding that the price controls, which the country also imposed 10 years ago at the height of hyperinflation, distort market conditions and lead to shortages.

“Price controls have never worked in our economy and we are not sure if they will work in the current context. They are short-term solutions and the country requires a long-term strategy to deal with foreign currency shortages,” he said, adding that prices are determined by laws of demand and supply in an open market.

Mutashu is spot on.

As long as government continues on this path — skirting the real cause and playing the blame game — Zimbabwe’s woes are far from over.

Very far.

And the root cause is a no-brainer.

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