Zim prepares for hard 2019

HARARE - Business leaders and analysts have warned that the country’s deepening economic rot will continue to ravage long-suffering Zimbabweans in 2019 — amid dire predictions that the first quarter of the new year will be particularly difficult, the Daily News can report.

This comes after President Emmerson Mnangagwa also warned the nation during the festive season that there would be more “bumps ahead” for weary citizens, as his under-pressure government battles to rebuild the country’s bleeding economy.

Zimbabwe is going through its worst economic crisis in a decade, that is fast-approaching the hyper-inflation horror of 2008 which decimated both lives and the local currency.

As a result of plummeting disposable incomes and sharply rising prices of goods, most people endured a bleak Christmas holiday this year — marked by debilitating shortages of fuel and basic goods such as cooking oil and soft drinks, among a myriad other challenges.

“The first quarter of the year doesn’t look good. It’s quite worrying because we appear to be heading for a poor agricultural season and that is going to dominate the new year’s issues.

“We might have enough maize to get us through the year, but I think other crops’ harvests might be disappointing, and so export revenues from tobacco and a few others like sugar would be disappointing.

“We may thus need to import some foods, and yet we do not have the forex to pay for them,” veteran economist John Robertson warned.

“So, it is going to be a difficult start to the year for agricultural reasons, and things will most likely get harder as we progress into the year because economic growth may be affected by the bad agricultural season.

“The promises that were made throughout 2018 have not been kept and that is probably the biggest disappointment.

“People were expecting many developments to take place because of the promises which were being made ... if they were to keep the promises they made, that will make a huge difference,” Robertson added.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) president Denford Mutashu also said the government had its work cut out in 2019, as business expected the State to focus more on rebuilding the economy.

“There has to be adequate focus on the ease of doing business because currently there are a lot of concerns around the dampening ease of doing business environment. We also expect government to be consistent in its policies.

“We are where we are because of inconsistent policy announcements that were made, especially towards the fourth quarter of 2018 which dampened confidence in the economy and caused panic as well as a general lack of trust that was created around the currency reforms which were implemented alongside the Transitional Stabilisation Programme.

“You may recall that from January to around September there was a relative sense of stability in the economy, which diminished after October 1, following the interventions that were pronounced,” Mutashu said.

On its part, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) urged the government to address the acute shortages of foreign currency in the country, as well as some key policies which it said were hurting business.

“A good start makes for a good ending. So, if we don’t start the year well, businesses will struggle throughout the year. It is important that government resolves currency issues and maintains fiscal discipline.

“What is positive is that in spite of the challenges in Q4 2018, companies did very well in terms of volumes, compared to the same period in 2017,” CZI president Sifelani Jabangwe told the Daily News.

Zimbabwe is currently in the throes of a mega economic crisis which has resulted in much suffering and anger among citizens, who accuse the government of introducing a raft of measures which have further burdened them instead of alleviating their pain.

At the same time, the government is also struggling to end the doctors’ strike which has crippled services within the country’s failing public health sector.

The State’s recent ill-advised decision to fire over 500 striking junior doctors — on the back of a court ruling which deemed their industrial action illegal — has seen provincial medical officers (PMOs) joining their colleagues in solidarity, leaving hospitals in the lurch.

Analysts canvassed by the Daily News yesterday also predicted a difficult new year for the country, unless Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa agree to talks aimed at mitigating the economic rot.

“I think it’s mostly going to be fire fighting in the areas of access to fuel, continued civil service unrest and the impending drought and food shortages.

“This is no longer a development situation, but a stabilisation situation and we may see a full-scale return to repression as the government tries to stem the tide of criticism and unrest from marginalised social groups, more so the civil service and opposition parties.

“The government may thus benefit from national dialogue that sets the country on a communication development path,” political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said.

Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, also warned of further hikes in the prices of goods, as well as growing civil anxiety.

“Political activism will increase. Civil space will shrink as government turns to prioritising the economy over human rights.

“If they remain on the current trajectory of dollarising the economy using market forces, we are also likely to have the price of fuel rising ... and then a subsequent reaction of the economy in the form of higher prices commensurate with the hikes in fuel.

“So, expect a surge in prices in the next four months, then labour issues as everyone fights to have salaries reviewed or hedged on the US dollar,” Saungweme said.

During his Christmas message to the nation, Mnangagwa said there was going to be further pain for suffering Zimbabweans in 2019 before things improved.

“2018 was a historic year for our beloved nation as we began the process of national renewal and recovery.

“There is so much more to be done and there will be further bumps along the road ... I encourage all of us to be patient, resilient and to work harder in collective unity as we create a better, democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe for all,” he said.

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