THE reversed scraping of civil servants bonuses that our Finance Minister announced last month, as well as the introduction of Grade 7 examination fees that is being rumoured through the electronic corridors and newsrooms is nothing less than the IMF and World Bank-prescribed extension of neo-liberal forces. In our own reading of African experience, the neo-liberal philosophy lacks pragmatism to our reality. Instead of pacifying the troubled waters, they are actually destructive in nature.
The economies of Southern Africa cannot forget the debilitating effects of the post-Washington consensus that was fronted by the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) in the 1990s. These twin multilateral institutions introduced some structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) as a debt-recovery plan on developing countries that owed them billions of US dollars disbursed as development financial assistance.
Zimbabwe also happened to have borrowed the institutions a lot of money that was meant to implement the Growth with Equity Policy that saw land resettlement to accommodate the historically marginalised, universal education, extension of healthcare and expansion of other social services to the once discriminated Africans.
The campaign was based on the 3Ds that are democratization, devaluation and deregulation. These policies underperformed the economy as they forced the government to concentrate on budget deficits at the expense of creating employment and improving social services. In 1999, unemployment stood at 50% in some sectors and only 16 000 jobs are created per year for 220 000 school leavers.
Since the early 1990s, 130 companies were liquidated. Due to currency devaluation, the real foreign exchange value of exports in Zimbabwe declined by 2,7% a year while it had grown by 9% before SAPs were introduced. Economic growth was slow and 60 000 workers were retrenched under the ploy of a macro-economic strategy called “Public Expenditure Review.”
However, the policies aggravated poverty among the urban middle class and the rural folks through retrenchments and removal of health, educational and agricultural subsidies. The acronym, ESAP which stands for Economic Structural Adjustment Programs was seen abbreviation for “Ever Suffering African People” due to the neo-liberal approach’s detrimental properties.
Over the last six years, the government has been effecting the World Bank Staff Monitored Programme (SMP) which is some procedure of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) built around the implementing country setting its own targets on issues that need reform. Under the SMP that started during the GNU era under the then Finance Minister, Tendai Biti and Zimbabwe was working on its economic fundamentals that include restructuring of its civil service which is inescapably downscaling through retrenching employees.
This is done to redress the obscene budgetary allocation towards civil servants salaries that stands uprightly at 82% of its total revenue. The fiscal arrangement to cut back on recurrent expenditure by culling 500 000 workforce and suspending civil servants bonus payments until 2017 as publicized by the Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa some days prior to the Independence Day celebrations signalled a milestone to the Bretton Woods institutions which urges governments to be cost-effective by rethinking their spending behaviour.
Nonetheless we cannot be divorced from our own reality which sees the incumbent ZANU PF-led government having promised to create employment to 2 million jobseekers under the inspiration of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation blueprint during the previous election campaign. Can we retrench to create employment? If that impossibility has become possible, then it is also thinkable to mine a pit to fill another pit. At the same time we try to employ cost-effective measures, it is also necessary not to get carried away by abortive elitist policies.
On the other hand, the introduction of Grade 7 Examination Fees also in question is against the United Nations Millennium Development Goal Number 2 that advocates for universal free primary or basic education which is vital to the attainment of all other goals, be it poverty eradication, gender equality, reduction of child mortality, maternal health, combating of HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases, global partnership for development or environmental protection. The institution of exam fee might erode all the gains achieved so far.
Though the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Lazarus Dokora justifies the move saying the fees are meant to cushion the Zimbabwe School Examination Council that is failing to fully paying the last year’s Grade 7 examiners. The very fact that there is an exam fee might bar some pupils from extremely poor families from achieving a Grade 7 Certificate. For a guardian who has 3 children sitting for Advanced Level, Ordinary Level and Grade 7 examinations the same year, it might be a mammoth task for a guardian to finance all those young students’ school fees as well as exam requirements. That might lead to prioritization of education thereby bringing back such issues as gender disparities.
Education is not an option but a human right. The introduction of the exam fee regardless of the amount being US$4 is a direct violation of the Zimbabwean Constitution Chapter 2, Section 27 (1) (a) which stipulates: “The state must take all practical measures to promote free and compulsory basic education for children.” While the government wants to keep afloat the splendor of its literacy levels that are highly rated in in the continent, it is sinister to forget its constitutional obligation.
The neo-liberal experience of the 1990s had a boomerang effect on the government hence made it very unpopular. The gulf between the rich and the poor widened because of these ill-thought policies and by the time when the government realized it had already lost the support of the middle class which choreographed the formation of the MDC in 1999. Government policies should relief and not burden the taxpayer.
Takudzwanashe Mundenga is a resident political, social and business analyst. He runs this column weekly. Among his academic achievements, he co-authored the book, The Post 1980 Chimurengas Explained edited by Richard R. Mahomva and Simbarashe Moyo. For feedback and comments please feel free to write him on [email protected]