Even Zim's all-weather friends act in their own national interest

HARARE - In the ongoing series of interviews with 2018 general elections presidential candidates, the Daily News on Sunday’s Senior Staff Writer Andrew Kunambura sat down with Build Zimbabwe Alliance (BZA) president Noah Manyika.

Below are the excerpts from the interview.

Q: What will you do differently if you are elected?

A: I will aggressively promote and defend the constitutional rights and liberties of every Zimbabwean without fear or favour. I will make it clear to every Zimbabwean that their full participation in deciding the future of our country and rebuilding it is urgently needed.

My government will create a Civil Rights Division in the attorney-general’s office to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Zimbabweans, repeal the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), revoke the Broadcasting Services Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) etc to ensure that every citizen can fully exercise their constitutional rights and make their voices heard.

I will form a multiracial, multi-generational and gender-inclusive cabinet and government made up of leaders who believe that no Zimbabwean has a higher claim to citizenship than another on account of race, age, tribe, gender or liberation war credentials, and are committed to unleashing the incredible potential and promise of our people.

I will radically cut non-productive public spending by reducing the number of government ministries to 15, eliminating all deputy minister positions and the office of second vice-president and reducing the size of the legislature to pre-2013 levels.

Q: Are you likely to bring BZA into an alliance with other opposition alliances?

A: I have always been open to working with others who share our values, but pursuing alliances has not been our primary preoccupation. The dangers of alliances that are not well-thought through have been evident in the past few months. We cannot afford the wasting of time and energy we are seeing as people jostle for positions in these alliances.

We formed the BZA to provide a platform for Zimbabweans who are tired of these kinds of political games but who really feel they have something to offer their country to bring the change we all urgently need. We are a very different political formation because we are actually a platform for citizens to be in alliance with each other.

Q: The economy has collapsed in recent years; what steps would your administration take to encourage innovation and investment?

A: Innovation and investment happen when leaders who believe their own well-being to be inextricably tied to an economy that works for everyone. What we have seen in our country is our leaders have become richer and richer even as our economy experiences dramatic de-industrialisation and serious capital flight.

The loss of $15 billion from Chiadzwa and other illicit outflows hurt the well-being of the people, not the pockets and lifestyles of our leaders. A study by the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis Research Unit titled Capital Flight and Trade Misinvoicing in Zimbabwe reports that Zimbabwe lost $120,5 million to Italy through export under-invoicing between 2008 and 2013; while $99,6 million was lost to the United States and $208,6 million to Germany during the same period.

We have not even began to quantify how much the country has lost to so-called “mega deals” signed by our government as part of their “Look East Policy,” deals whose supposed positive impact on our economy has hardly been seen. The slump in productivity growth and drop in investment are not causes but symptoms of a grave disease afflicting our nation.

The real cause of the illness is weak and incompetent governance, corruption, patronage, an almost total absence of the rule of law and zero accountability. If we attend to these ills, draw competent people who will inspire the trust and confidence of local and international investors from Zimbabwe’s global pool of professionals in business, public administration and financial services to fill key decision-making and implementation positions in government, these symptoms will disappear as confidence returns and investment flows into all sectors of the economy.

Q: What will be your foreign policy?

A: One of the tragedies of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy under Mugabe was the failure to understand that even those countries we call our friends act in their own national interest. When the Chinese built the $200 million headquarters of the African Union and “gifted” it to the union, they did not do so simply out of the goodness of their hearts, but to have the inside track when it came to clinching deals in Africa.

It is not surprising and not the fault of the Chinese that those deals are lopsided and favour the Chinese more than they benefit African countries. Our foreign policy must put the interests of all Zimbabweans first. In these highly competitive times, Zimbabwe will need to develop a proactive and astute diplomacy which leans more towards international business diplomacy on the frontlines of which must be a politically shrewd, business and communications savvy diplomatic corps which can secure the best business deals for our country and engage the world to support our economic and infrastructure recovery plans.

Embassies and diplomats that only serve political representation purposes with no tangible benefits for Zimbabwe’s economy are a terrible waste.

Q: Millions of women and men aged 25 to 54 are neither working nor looking for work. How would you help the prime-age who are sitting on the sidelines of the Zimbabwean economy?

A: Most of the demographic you describe are actually not sitting and doing nothing. They are part of Zimbabwe’s informal sector which is 70 percent female and currently ranked sixth largest in Africa. That sector is a repository of critical artisanal skills, knowledge and human resources which must be supported and harnessed.

We will incentivise and support the cooperative efforts of thousands of vendors manning stalls selling the same produce to become part of local and global supply chains. We will lower the barriers to formalisation by reducing registration and licensing costs, offering tax abatements and eliminating government bureaucracy.

We will create a business engagement team to identify partnerships and trading and export opportunities for the informal sector, and provide lease-to-own State land for those desiring to relocate and expand their operations. Some in this demographic band are involved in artisanal and small-scale mining, with the number estimated at above a million.

My government will, among other things, incentivise formalisation by revising the Mines and Minerals Act to set lower fees for small operators, purchasing gold from the informal sector at competitive prices, and setting up a $300 million to $500 million Small-scale Mining Support Fund by 2023.

Q: How are you going to bring back the industries that have left this country?

A: It is not always going to be possible to bring back industries that have left our country or to resuscitate the ones that are now defunct… We will create provincial Business Engagement Teams (BET) to implement radical Business Recovery and Development Plans for each of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces. The BETs will aggressively promote provincial investment opportunities with the support of central government.

Q: What are some of the steps that you would take to improve medical care?

A: Section 76, sub-section 1 to 4 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe makes it clear that medical care is a right and not a privilege.

Like most sectors, however, the health care sector has largely been destroyed not just by the implosion of our economy, but by the government’s misplaced priorities.

Government has continued to underfund the health sector, allocating a measly $25 per person in the 2018 budget, dropping from $62 per capita in 2013, and $58 per capita in 2014, and $48 per capita in 2011. While countries like Rwanda and Uganda have drastically reduced defence and security budgets in recent years to increase spending on human and infrastructure development, Zimbabwe spends about six percent of gross domestic product on defence and security and only two percent on health.

A top priority for my government will be to increase budget allocation for health care relative to defence spending. The second step will be to improve salaries and conditions of service for healthcare workers. The third will be to begin work on the creation of a comprehensive National Health Service to ensure that every Zimbabwean has access to the basic health care services and medical care they need.

Q: Do you favour increasing or reducing Social Security benefits? If so, how would you do it?

A: The dramatic economic distortions we have experienced in Zimbabwe have impacted retirement schemes and pensions plans quite significantly. It takes a healthy economy to have sustainable Social Security schemes.

All things being equal, I do not favour reducing social security benefits since the levels at which such benefits are pegged represent a contract which must be honoured between the beneficiary and the scheme.

If the rationale for reducing benefits is to ensure the long-term viability of a retirement scheme, clearly those reductions would not be by choice. Under a BZA government, however, we will have the opportunity to lay a strong foundation for our financial services sector and to build a fiduciary culture that ensures that financial institution will be able to keep their commitments to their clients even in times of economic challenges.

Q: What initiatives would you undertake to make the arts more accessible to a wider group of people, including the elderly, children, people living in rural areas, and low-income families?

A: It’s important to understand the arts not simply as something to be enjoyed, but as a critical part of the economy. The production of cultural products, for instance, provides employment and can bring in significant income to families, communities and the nation.

The producers of cultural products can be found in every demographic category and locale. What I would encourage is investment in the arts as an industry, including the establishment of Business Engagement Teams that focus exclusively on the promotion of cultural products from Zimbabwean communities.

In a BZA government, The ministry of Youth, Recreation and National Service will also encourage the development of recreational facilities to serve the elderly, children, people living in rural areas, and low-income families.

Throughout the world in healthy economies, the private sector plays a critical role in promoting access to the arts. The primary responsibility of government is to make sure we have a vibrant and healthy economy that will invest in the advancement of the arts.

Q: Are you willing to accept the outcome of the 2018 election as the will of the voters?

A: I will accept the outcome of any election if it is truly free and fair not just by the standards of international observers, but by the judgment of our own electorate.

We must never forget that international observers have judged some questionable elections to be free and fair, including the 1997 election of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor who is currently serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes.

In my view, there are some in the international community who want the Zimbabwean problem to simply go away. They would whitewash a questionable result to benefit from normalised relationships even at the expense of our people’s freedom.

The destiny of the people of Liberia was deferred for almost a decade as a result of international observers claiming that Taylor’s election was free and fair with tragic consequences for Liberia.

Comments (1)

The truth of the matter is that we shall always continue to go in circles until all time in the iternity has passed. Itz like when we are at one end we would wish to go to the other end but when we are there,we again think of how to return back to the end we had started,continuing to go in circles.The main global issue tersing the world(zimbabwe included) is how gvts could eradicate global poverty but each time global gvts are cornered by the rich capitalists they tend again to open their avenues to further again subjugate the poor for their profits.To me the above interviewee presidential candidate is a mere agent of the western capitalists well intent on further suppressing our local folks-forcing them into further economic shackles in the ever suppressing capitalist world.The catch word nowadays is empowerment-well a blend of some fair employment is acceptable;even when capitalists come empowerment of the poor remain paramount-which shld b the aim of every gvt of this nation

addmore gudo - 4 February 2018

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