Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Elections, Fuel Increases and the Grass That Suffers



By Takura Zhangazha*

The inclusive government, prior to the March 16 2013 constitutional referendum, decided to pass on the cost of holding elections to Zimbabweans in a rather unorthodox manner. Through the Ministry of Finance it increased the excise duty on fuel imports and as a direct effect thereof, increased the costs of both public transport as well as goods/services. The logic given was that these increase would raise revenue to fund both the constitutional referendum as well as the pending harmonised elections. That decision was not only insensitive to the plight of the poor majority in the country  but sadly indicative of a lack of seriousness in policy implementation by the government. 

Democratic reasoning as well as budgeting would normally indicate that periodic national elections (in our case every five years) are events that are budgeted or fundraised for well in advance and with anticipation of the much vaunted ‘electoral cycle approach’.But because the inclusive government has been politicizing the entirety of not only its existence but also the duration of its term of office, there was never any thorough or focused planning on the inevitability of either the referendum or elections. 

This particularly so where and when it came to the annual budgets that have been presented since 2009. The point is not that the budgets did not allocate money for a perceived election, which they generally did. The key issues however remain two-fold. Firstly that these allocations were inadequate and secondly that with each passing year, why were the allocations never cumulative in relation to shortfalls for years that the elections were budgeted for but never occurred?

This is a debate that would initially appear to be abstract or more for the economists and political scientists if it did not have a bearing on the livelihoods of ordinary citizens.  This is in one primary respect. The government’s decision to increase the surcharges on fuel imports has almost immediately caused the evident increase in at least public transport costs for the ordinary civilian. 

It will most certainly, if it hasn’t already, cause further increase in the costs of basic commodities and other services on an already financially strained consumer. This would mean that while it would be assumedly noble that Zimbabweans are funding their own political processes by default, it is highly insensitive on the part of government to make the citizen pay for its mistakes and planning shortcomings. Such a development is indicative of the no longer shocking arrogance of our political leaders when it comes to matters that affect Zimbabweans directly. It is an arrogance that borders on dismissing the challenges the citizen faces regularly in favour of massaging the electoral egos of the few in government.

Another angle to look at this development is assessing the bigger picture of whether or not the processes Zimbabweans are now funding in an unorthodox manner have had democratic meaning in their lives. Where one looks at the constitutional referendum there is a distinct imprint of the same sort of arrogance that informs an almost knee jerk instruction to increase fuel import tax regardless of the views of the people. As a result, the process of the constitutional referendum became more an imposition than a democratic one . And the process still appears not to have ushered in any new and popular ‘democratic era’ as the political parties still in the inclusive government would have us believe especially with the continuation of a repressive political environment and a government that functions with limited little oversight. So if one does a cost-benefit analysis, Zimbabweans have been short changed while their economic circumstances have taken a turn for the worse.  And this by their own government.

It would also be important to take into account the new contestations about harmonized elections between the MDCs and Zanu Pf. Again, the potential of the persons carrying the dual burden of economic hardship and a polarized political environment being short changed is high. The message from government to the people of Zimbabwe is literally ‘fund our fight even if it will not have any direct economic benefit or new democratic meaning to you’. In any event, the government is firmly persuaded it can do what it wants without further or adequate public explanation necessary as it did with the constitutional referendum.

In the final analysis, the people of Zimbabwe have been asked to carry yet another undemocratic burden on behalf of the three parties in the inclusive government. With each party probably assuming it will win the election, it is a burden that will be politicized and have limited further meaning to democratic processes in the country. This while the government is attempting a pretense at democratic honesty via the undemocratic means of trying to cover up for its shoddy electoral planning processes and budgeting. 

By passing on the buck to the ordinary Zimbabwean in such an abrupt fashion, the inclusive government has shown its true character of elitism and smugness at never being challenged or brought to account on democratic value and principle. For this, Zimbabweans will have to suffer the circumstances described in the proverb, ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’. In our case, the grass may no longer exist.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. His Essay on Notes on 33 years of Independence will be online on Wednesday 17 April 2013 (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)