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The removal of the Movement for Democratic Change from cabinet has, theoretically, given Robert Mugabe and his discredited regime a free reign over the Zimbabwean economy.
However, it has also taught the new hardline finance minister Patrick Chinamasa a few tough lessons about public money and its administration.
The postponement of the budget is the most visible sign that Chinamasa has already failed to raise the billions required to keep Zimbabwe afloat. That is not all. The minister’s failure came after an expensive visit to Washington recently yielded nothing in dollar terms. The visit, and Chinamasa’s public posturing, has shown just how naive he is.
The first lesson he has learn’t the hard way is that money does not grow on Zanu PF’s mythical tree, where nothing is impossible. Neither does money respect party dreams like Zim Asset, cooked up by hapless Zanu PF politburo members. The money that Zimbabwe needs is owned by the very Western powers that Mugabe and his entourage like to denigrate. This means, in simple terms, that when the minister, reputed to be
often drunk on whiskey and confrontational, makes wild allegations against the U.S. government, he is closing the door to the world’s richest vault.
Chinamasa could take a leaf from Tendai Biti’s award-winning reign as finance minister: make only necessary statements to the media and avoid unproductive controversies. Instead of waiting to consult Zanu PF’s ignorant branch chairpersons in December before presenting the national budget, the minister should do the traditional thing and consult the experts in his own office. He should listen to the CZI, even if George Charamba thinks they are puppets of the West.
The second lesson Chinamasa will have to learn is that the sanctions card is worn out, as Africa Confidential reported recently. Even within Zanu PF, many now know that looting of the Marange diamonds by the security forces and the Chinese Red Army has damaged the fiscus more than Western sanctions. If all the diamond revenue was put in the national treasury and distributed fairly, living standards and social security could rise to levels found in more prudent diamond countries like Botswana.
Thirdly, Chinamasa would have learnt that as long as Mugabe continues to rig elections to extend his misrule, noone with money will dare come close to him. It is only crooked Chinese mafia types and shadowy operators like the British sanctions buster Nicholas Van Hoogstraten who will continue to offer dirty money at extortionate rates. Already, Van Hoogstraten has taken advantage of Mugabe’s recklessness and the naivety of his officials to seize control of Zimbabwe’s strategic assets, Hwange Colliery Company and Rainbow Tourism Group. Reports say Hoogstraten is also positioning himself to take over management and control of Air Zimbabwe, for a song. No country has ever developed by depending on the Shylocks of this world.
Another lesson Chinamasa will have to learn is that government resources are limited. Using state funds to buy votes in provincial elections, to fix the party’s succession fiasco or even to fulfil Mugabe’s election promises is always counter-productive.
Finally, Chinamasa will have to learn the crucial lesson that being in control at Treasury means you are the regulator, not the owner of the economy. The actions of ordinary taxpayers, and their perception of how their taxes are used or abused, will determine the state of our national coffers over the next five years.
As the IMF team has already pointed out, Chinamasa must account for all the money generated in Marange and spend more on building irrigation systems, instead of dishing out millions to Mugabe’s spies and Zanu PF party militias.
Now Daily Editorial|