Deal with contradictions promptly

Minister Zhuwao

Minister Zhuwao

Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker Sir—
If there is anything that confuses people in general and investors in particular, it is discord that comes from ministers or senior officials on Government policies. There is a growing and disturbing trend of late where Government ministers and officials seem to give divergent views on policy or direction that the Government is taking. MPs have justifiably raised this concern during question time that mixed signals from Government ministers and officials have the tendency of confusing not only foreign investors but even locals as well.

It was therefore timeous for new minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Patrick Zhuwao, who demanded that ministers issue statements to do with their respective ministries instead of usurping their colleagues’ mandates.

He has threatened to replicate the late Eliphas Mukonoweshuro, who as Minister of Public Service blasted then Minister of Finance Tendai Biti for announcing that Government would effect a salary freeze on civil servants.

But the late minister would have none of it, describing Biti as trying to behave like a “super minister” by usurping other ministries’ mandates. Each minister must be responsible for making policy pronouncements regarding their ministries only if there is to be a clear direction on where the country is heading. For instance, at the moment, even locals are not clear as to the implementation of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act because we have had mixed signals from different ministers who sit in Cabinet.

As a result, investors are left wondering what the actual position is despite spirited attempts by the minister responsible to set the record straight. The only role that other ministers can play on explaining the Indigenisation Act is to corroborate the policy position as announced by the minister responsible. Other ministers must not be too excited to make pronouncements about something that is still under discussion or their wishes.

If they have any reservations about the Act, they must instead find an appropriate platform to reason with the minister who is responsible for steering the Bill. For the past two years, we have been told that the Act would be amended while other signals were that there was nothing to amend. So at the end of the day, there is no clarity as to the correct position.

Yes, Zhuwao may be resolute and as the minister responsible, he has every right to do that, but still that is not enough to inspire confidence as long as we continue to have mixed signals from the authorities.

It is not only on the indigenisation policy that we have had contradictions in Government. Some of these contradictions have left Zimbabweans wondering whether there is a parallel Government because ministries whose portfolios counter-overlap have made pronouncements or introduced policies that appear to be out of sync with the interests of the other which raises the question on whether there has been consultations before making such pronouncements.

Even during the Inclusive Government, where protagonists came from permanently different ideologies never had these kinds of contradictions.

There is now a worrying trend that barely two years after the new Government came into office, there are already major contradictions, some of them totally divorced from the ruling party’s July 31, 2013 election winning manifesto and the economic blueprint — Zim-Asset — that was supposed to provide policy direction in all facets of life.

Some of them are even flying in the face of the provisions of the Constitution and subsidiary legislation which is a sad development because if one can have the audacity to deliberately defy the law then they are capable of doing anything.

At this rate, bar a major reprimand or serious soul searching, we are likely to see these contradictions continue because there seem to be sectional interests that appear hell-bent on contradicting that which the revolutionary party has always claimed to stand for.

The recent report by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Water, Tourism and Hospitality Industry is a test case of such contradictions. For instance the Ministry of Finance imposed 15 percent Value Added Tax on hotel accommodation for foreign tourists in the 2015 National Budget without regard to the impact such a move has on tourist arrivals in the country.

It has always been said that the tourism sector presents low hanging fruits for the country but why do we then put so much effort in erecting beehives on the same? The Ministry of Tourism, the tourism sector and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Tourism have made the necessary noise about the negative impact of the 15 percent VAT yet it has remained in place.

In fact, the voice from the tourism sector seem to suggest that there was no consultation on the subject which boggles the mind as to how Treasury went ahead to introduce a policy without consideration to the input from the parent ministry and other players in the sector.

The other issue where there are contradictions have to do with the 650 percent rates increment by the Municipality of Victoria Falls — a resort town that is the country’s tourism cash cow. Obviously the effect of this increment that was approved by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing early this year is that it pushes tourism prices higher compared to other countries in the region.

The tourism sector, including the Ministry of Tourism, have made their reservations clear but there appear to be no going back. The begging question then is was there some form of consultation between the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing and that of Tourism and Hospitality Industry on the rates’ increment?

The simple answer based on presentations by the latter indicate that there was no such consultations which justifies the contradicting voices from Cabinet on the matter. Mr Speaker Sir, it is critical that ministers make consistent statements on Government policies if people in general and investors in particular, are to appreciate the correct Government position on any matter instead being left guessing.

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