Endless pursuit of economic destruction

Zimbabwe's war veterans and military personnel have become household names for all the wrong reasons. Twelve years ago, the ZANU PF-led government instigated chaotic seizures of white commercial farms led by elements claiming to be war veterans and some members of the uniformed forces. Productive farms were seized, stalling agricultural production and leading to multi- farm ownerships by the economic and political elites. Hectares of land still lie idle throughout the country due to failure by some new farm owners to productively use the land. Clearly there is no problem with organised land redistribution but problems arise when state property is not utilised to benefit the nation.

Examples abound of the extent to which these two institutions have compromised the country's economic development through ill- timed and ill- informed 'policies'. Moreover, the continued dominance of war veterans and military personnel both serving and retired in state institutions has not only retarded production and economic development but has also stalled democracy through entrenching ZANU PF's 33 year hold on power. It is a well known fact that parastatals continue to be used as 'patronage institutions' for ZANU PF functionaries while depriving ordinary Zimbabweans of critical services.

The Newsday of 26 March 2012 reported that last week, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) came under spotlight in Parliament with allegations from Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Legislator, Dorcas Sibanda that the Chairperson and General Manager Retired Air Commodore Mike Tichafa Karakadzai, former military personnel employed at the parastatal and war veterans are sucking the life out of the already ailing state institution. Media reports are that, in most departments at the NRZ, war veterans have been employed and what is worrying is that they do not have job descriptions. While in its mission statement NRZ claims to be in the business of satisfying the transport needs of "customers by providing an efficient, cost-effective, convenient and reliable service with a view to becoming the most preferred mode of transport," the situation at the institution has been deteriorating over the years due to mismanagement, corruption and underfunding.

Zimbabwe's rail network, once a hub of the regional transport network with remarkable expertise of qualified engineers and technical qualified engineers and technical people has become so dilapidated that the World Bank in December 2011 recommended the closure of some lines. Currently NRZ is operating at between 30% and 50% capacity because of a myriad of challenges. NRZs entire infrastructure is obsolete, with 99% of the railways equipment having outlived its lifespan and the track in need of urgent overhaul. According to an article published in The Zimbabwean out of a total of 168 locomotives, only 61 are in service. NRZ problems also emanate from the fact that the institution was also at times forced to dabble in unviable populist projects such as the now defunct freedom train, which used to charge uneconomic fares. As a result the public have lost confidence in rail transport, forcing them to use more expensive modes of transport such as road and air. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Spokesperson Mr Thabani Nyoni in his comment highlighted that:

'The NRZ case is just a tip of the iceberg and if we deeply look at state institutions and parastatals we notice that there has been a conscious and deliberate attempt to collapse ZANU-PF as a party into the state. As a result the whole party machinery in terms of intellectual capital is supported by state institutions and this makes it difficult to reform the state institutions because that is tantamount to undermining the power of ZANU-PF'.

The government has, in the past, experimented with ill-defined turnaround programmes which do not seek to make the parastatals viable and productive but to consolidate the hegemonic interests of political vultures.  The interplay in the parastatals has resulted in the consolidation of personal political interests at the expense of expediency and efficacy. The government has removed competent people as heads of parastatals or in boards over policy disagreements and has appointed mediocres who are able to sing for their supper in their place. As a result most of these parastatals are in deep throes of managerial ineptitude.

It is therefore obvious that NRZ and other parastatals are failing dismally as vehicles for economic development. Unfortunately their failure has a ripple effect as they are expected to also act as enablers of other sectors of the economy. For instance the failure of the NRZ impacts negatively on other sectors like trade and foreign investment. Because of inefficiencies in the rail system, most companies now prefer to transport their goods through road and at times air, which adds to excessive cost build ups in the pricing of their products.

If the inclusive government is sincere about promoting sustainable economic development in Zimbabwe, there should be a deliberate effort towards promoting transparency and accountability in state institutions. ZANU PF should liberate captured institutions and allow the institutions to provide the much needed services to citizens instead of using them as 'patronage institutions'.

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