Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Essar, Greenfuels Investment Deals and our Incompetent Inclusive Government.

Essar, Greenfuels Investment Deals and our Incompetent Inclusive Government.
By Takura Zhangazha*
There are currently two major investment deals that the government of Zimbabwe is surprisingly unsure about how to proceed with, even after initially approving of them. The first, which was launched amidst much fanfare was the Essar deal that was described as being intended to ensure the revival of ZiscoSteel in the Midlands Province. It is now being reported that cabinet has ordered some sort of review into the deal because apparently we sold the processing plant and the iron deposits for too little.

The other investment deal is the Chisumbanje/Greenfuels one where the Minister of Energy has publicly told the company involved to export its ethanol. Apparently the minister has not seen any cabinet minutes as to a directive that the ethanol from Greenfuels be compulsorily blended with all imported petrol in Zimbabwe. Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara has since told Parliament that cabinet has set up some committee or the other to look into the matter. There are other controversial government investment deals that are not as publicly disputed but these two above cited deals leave one perplexed as to what exactly is going on in cabinet and in the offices of various ministers.

The two deals in question, prior to being approved by the government, had been reported on for a while in the media. In some instances cabinet ministers travelled to various countries to see examples of where the relevant investor had a similar operation. In other instances, particularly as regards the Essar deal, there were further media reports about serious jockeying for the lucrative tender by not only the Indian company but South African companies that were alleged to have strong links to African National Congress (ANC) officials and allegedly the same party's former presidents.

After all the trips, lobbying, verification and other measures had been undertaken, the government, of its own volition, decided to award Essar and Greenfuels the relevant investment contracts. With both deals however, there now seems to be a turnaround by government without adequate reason or public explanation. The versions of these unclear reasons are many, but suffice to say, there can only be something fishy on the part of  cabinet in both cases. The lack of clarity on these two matters is not only appalling, but patently indicative of a government that does not take its work or its own people seriously. 

In fact, it appears that government is more preoccupied with grandstanding about private public partnerships when it does not in the end demonstrate the relevant knowledge of the intentions of the private partner and does not dot the 'i's or cross the 't's when putting pen to paper.  It is rather embarrassing to have a government that argues with itself about an investment that is already approved and already on the ground. Even if one is to assume that in the case of the Essar deal, all that government is seeking is to correct an anomaly, it would be irresponsible on our part as citizens to let cabinet off lightly.

A key question is how does the government not follow up with relevant mining departments as to the content and nature of  iron ore deposits before putting pen to paper? And if a minister is dealing with a multi-million dollar investment deal, to what extent is he/she assisted with the relevant expertise as regards the full implications of the deal? In the case of Essar, it appears that the government did not do its own homework and was quick to claim credit for an investment that invariably has turned out to be a sour one.

Where one reviews the limited public information that is there about the Greenfuels deal in Chisumbanje, one can be forgiven to think that the actual problem relates to community land rights. Instead the problem is that the government agreed to such a massive project, only to say it no longer wants to utilise the end product (ethanol) locally. The relevant minister then advises the investment company, via the media, to 'export' the ethanol. Now, there could be various reasons why the minster has done this, including, perhaps political reasons but what stands to fact is that if cabinet agreed to this deal, it must either cancel it altogether or else see it through.

Moreover, if there are serious differences in the fuel importation  industry, then the minister must openly seek to iron out these differences and explain cabinet decisions for the benefit of not only the fuel oligarchs but also the Zimbabwean public. Where government fails to do this, we would not be remiss to assume that perhaps cabinet is not functioning in the best interests of Zimbabweans.

In both deals, it remains imperative that the government cleans up its act quickly and functions on the basis of demonstrating that it is serious about running this country. Even where the arguments are that the inclusive government does not function fully well, it can only be counter-argued that all cabinets the world over have collective responsibility and as such, botched investment deals are the fault of all political parties that are in cabinet.
*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Harare City Council 'Bus Plan' needs re-think

Harare City Council 'Bus Plan' needs re-think

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Harare City Council (HCC), according to recent media reports, intends to expand the city's public transport services by introducing a fleet of 500 buses in partnership with a private company. On the face of it, it is a development that must be welcomed given the fact that the city's public transport system as it exists today remains characterized by 'stop gap' planning and without the necessary 'best practice' service and safety standards. The contemporary main players that are likely to be affected by this policy intention of HCC are private commuter omnibus operators who have  been the main providers of urban public service transport  in the city since the liberalization of urban transport services. How these stakeholders will respond to this potential competition is probably something that they can better argue via their relevant associations.

What is however  important about this particular policy intention and tender pronouncement by the city is how it came to be deemed either a solution or a necessary measure to take in the best interests of Harare residents and commuters. I am sure there are tender award protocols and accountability mechanisms that are currently being utilized in order to ascertain which of the five reported companies will win the award to provide the buses that council has deemed necessary to ease the traffic and congestion on the city's roads.

The more important point however is whether the plan is a holistic plan or, as with previous ones, is more to address symptoms without achieving the intended effect which would be a lasting cure for our transport ills.  A departure point in seeking to analyze this new policy initiative of council is to measure the reasons why HCC has not considered the railway network or linkages with the National Railways of Zimbabwe in its plan. If the council has indeed considered the urban railway network as an option then they must give a public explanation as to why it is no longer deemed part of the solution to our public transport challenges.

In its explanations, it would also be wise for HCC to consider  a number of issues that will emerge when it goes ahead with this plan in its reported form. The first issue being that given the general traffic congestion  particularly during our peak hours,  the additional 500 buses are not going to resolve the problem of time spent by commuters on the road to and from work.  A combination of the intended buses, smaller commuter omnibuses, private vehicles is a recipe for more congestion and not relief. 

When also considered with the fact that our roads are already strained since very few of them are either dualised  or fully upgraded to efficiently accommodate current levels of traffic, let alone an additional number of buses,  the HCC will then have to make  some controversial choices. These would possibly include either introducing  an extra charge ( e.g London's congestion charge)  to either private or smaller vehicles as a deterrent for them to come into the CBD. The other alternative will be to actively encourage commuters to  use council sanctioned buses while at the same time competing with the small commuter omnibuses in the CBD. Again, HCC will face tough challenges with proving their buses to be better and more efficient than the smaller commuter omnibuses that are currently the main mode of transport for many residents. This process will inevitably lead to clashes and differences between the city authorities and those that are currently in the public transport business wherein the latter will accuse the former of unfair protection of  the new bus company's operations.

Where the council undertakes a 'big picture' approach to the public transport challenges in Harare, they would have to consider including the railway network in their plans and thereby reduce the number of buses they intend to introduce. The national railway network, even though it has been described as technologically outdated and underfunded, provides an alternative solution that has been under-explored in relation to urban public transport in Zimbabwe. While it has been tried in controversial circumstances before (early-to mid 2000s) it was never further developed. The city council would do well to take an approach that links up more conveniently and efficiently the railway line network that circumnavigates the capital and lies adjacent to major residential areas to the west and east of Harare. The buses that would then be introduced would cover primarily shorter distances and possibly provide services that link up parts of the CBD or newly constructed railway stations in residential areas that the railway line passes through. This would invariably be a cheaper and more efficient  option for the commuters as it would mean less congestion on the roads, less accidents, less consumption of fuel as well as less environmental damage in the city.

While the leaders of the city may perceive this to be more expensive and more long term as an alternative to their 'bus plan', it is an alternative that will strengthen the full utilization of available infrastructure as well as enable an integrated public transport system for the city. It would therefore be imperative that the council undertakes a much more complete cost benefit analysis of its intended introduction of 500 buses onto the capitals strained transport system.

*Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity: takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The ‘Quiet’ Transformation of Zimbabwean Society.

The ‘quiet’ transformation of Zimbabwean Society.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The general discourse on the challenges that Zimbabwe has faced in the last ten years has been given as that which has its root causes in the political realm. In explanations as to why the country is where it is, and specifically in the aftermath of the advent of the global spread of liberal democratic values, academics and laypersons alike have referred to the root cause of the general crisis in Zimbabwe as a ‘crisis of governance’.  Such a description of the problems the country has faced has also been taken to mean that it is the manner in which Zimbabweans are governed that has been the source of the current and even previous unpalatable state of affairs in the country. 

This would be  'crisis of governance' causal effect has included identifying the ‘democratic deficit’ of  Zimbabwe's  political system as the primary reason as to why we no longer have either social welfare, decent levels of foreign  direct investment or even why our own citizens are leaving the country in droves at every turn and opportunity. 

Because in any event, the same said ‘crisis of governance’ still obtains, it is however important to point out that the country has however not stopped functioning in one way or the other. Whereas the late Professor Masipula Sithole referred the manner in which Zimbabwe started functioning after 1997 as an exercise in ‘normalizing the abnormal’, it remains true that however one may view it, we still have a state that is undergoing seen and unseen changes. 

The ‘seen’ changes (or lack thereof) are those that relate to what I have referred to earlier as  being determined by the cliche, ‘ a crisis of governance’ which is mainly defined by the lack of a number of democratic mechanisms such as free and fair elections, separation of powers, a democratic constitution amongst other matters that relate to various indices on democracy. 

The second and for the purposes of this article, more important change to Zimbabwean society has however been the 'unseen change' which has tended to evade or be evaded by political actors. This  'unseen' change is primarily experienced by the majority poor or ‘underbelly’ of Zimbabwean society and can be described as the comprising the ‘quiet change’ in the country. It is a change that has to deal with the new, stark and harsh realities that the everyday citizen has to face in Zimbabwe, no matter what the political leaders are saying at any given point in time. 

These realities are indicative of the transformation of the state from being 'benign' to being completely negligent to the livelihoods of the populace through inorganic planning and outsourcing of social welfare needs to either international NGOs or corporate (read as South African and Chinese) capital. The overall impact of such an approach by the state has led to literally ‘revolutionary’ change in how Zimbabweans survive on a regular basis as well as how this has negatively affected our social value systems. 

More Zimbabweans are now of the firm understanding that even where they had confidence in the state seeking to assist them out of poverty or humanitarian disasters, it is an unrealistic collective expectation. This, not because of big ideological battles on the role of the state but simply on the basis of the nonchalance of political leaders when it comes to matters that have no bearing on political power as an end in itself.

This has led to many citizens pursuing 'survival' tactics in activities that relate but are not limited to the informal economy (cross-border linked trading),  farming under the fast track land reform programme (even if their political party of choice is against it), resorting to crime (including  syndicates taking advantage of vulnerable young women for commercial sex work) , finding solace in religion and superstition or alternatively simply emigrating from the country and leaving behind disjointed families and communities. Even where some citizens are employed  formally, it is mainly to augment or finance the informal activities that are cited above.   

In undertaking these activities the attendant socioeconomic culture is one that is resigned to the ‘each man for himself and God for us all!’ mantra. This is tragically so  even where there should be collective concern over services that are intended to technically ensure basic human equality for all such as health, education, shelter and access to water. 

As a matter of consequence,  the sad thing to note about the above cited realities is that they have taken on a life of their own. That is to say, the negative state of affairs vis-a-vis the general lack of a social welfarist and responsible state has begun producing an increasingly societally  ‘acceptable’  knowledge and cultural system (increasingly via ICTs)  of its own for younger Zimbabweans who may no longer harbour idealistic notions of democracy for a society that seems to have neglected them.  

It therefore becomes this 'quiet change' that is most definitive of the future of Zimbabwe, after all the slogans have been shouted. It is a change that is easy to ignore given the Manichean  character of Zimbabwe's politics but it is the reality that a greater majority of Zimbabweans have to face every day.  Where political, civil and religious leaders do not address the ‘abnormalised normal’ in Zimbabwe’s ‘underbelly’, we have a real crisis on our hands. And it will not just be one of ‘governance’ but of a complete collapse of the legitimacy of the Zimbabwean state. 
 * Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity. takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com.