Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review of Government and Business 'Relationship' Urgent

 Review of Government and Business 'Relationship' Urgent.
By Takura Zhangazha*

In the last fortnight there have been a number of media reports on the non-transparent tendencies of stakeholders in the banking and fuel procurement sectors of our national economy. These media reports indicate that due to a patent lack of transparency and accountability, the country is now faced with a new  crisis with some banks as well as a potential fuel procurement scam that if unattended to, will affect petrol and diesel supplies into the country. It would have been expected that government would have immediately announced an investigation at the highest level concerning to not only these two matters but even others that have been reported on in the media.

As it turns out, the government may not be taking these issues as seriously as one would expect. This even after the now embarrassing debacle that appears to be the Essar and Green Fuel investment projects that cabinet is said to be reviewing.  The reasons for such an ambivalent approach by the state to matters of serious national concern are generally given as the 'unworkable' and difficult relationships of the parties that comprise the inclusive government. But on the emerging scandals concerning the credibility of our banks as well as the procurement of fuel, this reason is thoroughly inadequate and democratically unacceptable.

The gravity of the economic challenges that are apparent for some people and businesses that are currently unable to access their savings due to the challenges of some of our banks and the serious hints at shady deals around fuel supplies did not emerge out of the blue. They are most likely the culmination of lack of serious government oversight into these sectors (and probably others) in the last four years.  Unfortunately it however appears as though this lack of serious oversight on the part of government is not merely due to a lack of capacity but may now increasingly be telltale evidence of a potentially unhealthy relationship between government and our own version of 'big' business.

The symptoms of this unfortunate state of affairs have been glaring. In the last year or so there have been many reported stories concerning various state related entities or crucial services and the dubious transactions that have taken place under the watch of government. These transactions have ranged from the controversial involvement of the National Social Security Agency (NSSA) with various banks and trusts, the 'prematurely' granted Essar-Ziscosteel deal, the  bio fuel project in Chisumbanje and of late the recent problems at Interfin and Genesis banks.  In all this one cannot avoid the rumours that some of the companies and concerns that are now under the spotlight are suspected  to be politically connected to one party or the other in the inclusive government. Moreover there are whispers that some senior government officials have or had direct business interests in some of these and other related commercial entities, a matter that can only leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Given the foregoing, it is necessary that there be an urgent but independent review of the relationship between various business interests and the state as well as individual political leaders in government. The necessity of such a review is premised on the democratic importance of ensuring that both business and the state are accountable to the people of Zimbabwe as well as to stem the rising 'mafia culture' that seems to be defining state-business relations.

Further to this, the review would enable our country's 'big' businesses to revisit their operational ethics and values in order not only to adhere to them but to improve on them urgently. The inclusive government must also revisit its approach on its interactions with local and international capital. As regards the former, government must insist on an understanding that a business concern is not just about personal aggrandizement. Its primarily about innovation in the supply of goods or services in the greatest public interest of the country.  This would assist in combating the murky culture of opulence amidst poverty that has been demonstrated by some of our prominent business persons and sad to say, most of the members of cabinet.

Finally, and in aide of emphasis, the collusion (if any) between government and prominent commercial concerns is undemocratic and prone to high levels of corruption.  It is also dangerous because when elites with political power and those with access to resources have fingers in both pies, it leads to the creation of a 'mafia' that may, with time, be impossible to bring to account.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity,