EDITORIAL COMMENT: Long list of impressive results makes up Sona
The Fifth and last session of the Ninth Parliament of Zimbabwe formally opened yesterday in the new Parliament Building in Mount Hampden and while laying out the legislative agenda, President Mnangagwa took the opportunity to outline what has already happened since his Second Republic administration took office just over four years ago.
While he started the reform process almost exactly five years ago when he was sworn in to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of his predecessor, President Mnangagwa systematised and accelerated the whole range of economic, political, educational and foreign relations reforms soon after winning his own mandate as President.
At the same time the reform-centred Ninth Parliament had been elected, giving the President a substantial majority to clean up the law books and pass the sort of prudent and development-orientated budgets coming from his new economic team of technocrats, backed by the decisive and necessary political direction of the President.
And those processes have produced major results. President Mnangagwa adopted early the procedure of combining his State of the Nation Address with his formal statement opening a new session of Parliament and explaining what legislation was required over the following year.
From the beginning he was light on promises and instead opting to outline what had been achieved and what processes had been set in motion. This time he took that to the limit.
There are zero promises in yesterday’s address, just a list of the successes and a list of what new law is required over the next few months.
President Mnangagwa was able to do this because he had a long list of successes to report and the speech had to just hit the high points of the successful action by the Government and the general backing of Zimbabwe, with the investors and private sector given their due for ensuring the general performance was one of success.
But then with decent Government establishing the basic framework, everyone can join in for their own good and the good of the country as a whole.
Economically the Second Republic had been a success. There has been significant economic growth and this growth, as a direct result of the priorities set by the President and his Government, has been spread geographically, spread across sectors, and has included the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans.
Since 2018 there have been tight fiscal and monetary policies to stabilise the economy and ensure that growth is real, viable and sustained.
That continued in the last year with major and successful efforts to prevent non-productive borrowing and other speculative behaviour. While the Second Republic from the very beginning was determined that the Government was not going to be the source of economic instability, it has become apparent that some in the private sector needed to join in.
There were two spikes of inflation, both caused directly by dreadful private speculation in the black market for foreign currency, the first in 2020 ended by the market-based reforms of introducing the foreign currency auctions, and the second earlier this year killed by extending market-based reforms to kill borrowing, mop up the spare cash created in the private sector through selling gold coins to the honest majority simply wanting to store value, and then fixing the Government procurement system that had allowed some businesses to grossly overcharge.
All worked and monthly inflation, as the President noted, has now fallen dramatically and is continuing to fall.
At the same time the dramatic economic growth had seen exports rise by almost a third in the first eight months of this year compared to last year, and that year was a jump on the previous years.
A lot of that was due to the investor-friendly and investor-welcoming measures introduced when President Mnangagwa took office. It takes time to open new mines and expand existing ones, it takes time to open and expand factories, but we are now seeing the results.
The jump in exports has been matched by a jump in local production, with industry now using most of its capacity to make goods, and with the farming sector, driven by a number of Government programmes, producing almost all our food.
That in turn has seen rapid progress in rural areas, and especially with most small-scale farmers now moving out of poverty and not just feeding themselves but selling crops and surpluses to make money.
The one downside of all this economic expansion is the fact that Zimbabwe’s economy has been outrunning its power supply, which again is being fixed with the new 600MW at Hwange Extension almost ready to come on stream, but with a continuous flow of new stations needed and being planned for.
The load shedding we endure is the price of success, and an example that it takes time to build a power station.
The President dwelt a bit on the revolution in education, what he called Chimurenga Chepfungwa, which has seen major curriculum changes across sectors, the major expansion and improvement in practical tertiary education and the general thrust to ensure that the education system produces the people with the skills and the business culture to maintain the economic growth.
And access is vastly improved with 2 million children now benefiting from the BEAM programme.
Health systems are being rapidly upgraded and expanded, along with medical education and training to ensure they can be staffed properly, and again we have seen the public and private sectors singing from the same hymn sheet, from the joint effort to defeat Covid-19 onwards.
There was a list of legislative changes, from the new regulations to ensure that those involved in Government procurement are now aware of respectable market pricing before they rip open the tender envelopes, to the new legislation required for the next steps in devolution, functioning and efficient provincial councils.
One major requirement, and the President set this as a priority, are the amendments to the Electoral Act. Here there should be little trouble. The large batch of by-elections delayed by Covid-19 in March went off smoothly and peacefully, with no one complaining at either the canvassing stage, the polling or the announcement of results. We need that next year.
The amendments to electoral law should follow the course we have seen with the clean up of the information and broadcasting legislation, where Zanu PF and opposition Parliamentarians cooperated to produce something that really worked. This sort of approach also ensures that everyone has to be reasonable and propose changes that make sense.
Good ideas are never rejected and any populist and undetailed grandstanding is obvious. As the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has noted, it is bound to follow the law and anyone wanting something different needs to change the law. Now is that opportunity.
Generally President Mnangagwa is now running an administration that produces the sort of results expected, and the legislative programme makes sense and is needed, so the Fifth Session needs to take this seriously and ensure that the resulting new laws also make sense and fulfil perceived needs.