By John Kachembere and Mugove Tafirenyika
HARARE – Economic and political experts have lashed President Robert Mugabe’s surprising decision last week to expand his already bloated Cabinet, describing the move as strange, wasteful and guaranteed to worsen the country’s escalating economic meltdown.
Speaking to the Daily News, the experts said the new Cabinet additions flew in the face of “all economic sense”, at a time that the International Monetary Fund has slashed Zimbabwe’s projected economic growth from 2,8 percent to a modest 1,5 percent this year — warning grimly that even this might prove too optimistic due to worsening market conditions.
A rattled Mugabe — reeling from the dramatic re-entry into national politics by former Vice President Joice Mujuru, and severely weakened by his advanced age as well as Zanu PF’s worsening factional and succession wars — appointed 14 new ministers on Friday, while tinkering with other ministerial portfolios at the same time, in his third such major reshuffle in less than a year.
Economist Prosper Chitambara noted that Zimbabwe was a relatively small $14 billion economy, with a population of about 14 million, but now had at least 60 ministers and a public service wage bill which consumed more than 80 percent of the national budget.
“I strongly believe that, as Zimbabweans, we are over-governed. When you look at the size of our government relative to our population and relative to our economy, and compare this with countries like South Africa and America, there is scope for us to reduce government expenditure in order to create fiscal space,” he said.
Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya concurred with Chitambara, saying the recent Cabinet reshuffle exposed “Mugabe’s hunger to hold on to power at all costs”.
“There are huge contradictions in that the government on one hand talks about streamlining the civil service, but is at the same time promoting a bloated executive on the other.
“Mind you, the appointments come with perks, so Mugabe is essentially telling Zimbabweans that they can continue to tighten their belts while politicians in government can continue to loosen theirs,” he said.
Ruhanya added that the latest ministerial appointments would put further strain on the already over-burdened taxpayers, who were currently struggling to make ends meet under the harsh economic environment.
“Those people are not there to serve the interests of the people but the hegemonic stability of Mugabe’s party. For example, he has chosen to appoint Makhosini Hlongwane as a minister without Portfolio. What role will he and the other new appointees play to assist the regeneration of the political economy of the State?
“It was a balancing act to placate the Mnangagwa and Grace factions because you will observe that four of the new ministers are from Midlands and three from Mashonaland East, and eight of them are associated with Mnangagwa,” Ruhanya said.
He also said the appointment of the nonagenarian’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao — as Indigenisation minister — was possibly intended “to mop up financial resources” for the First Family from empowerment deals while Mugabe was still around.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza said by constantly reshuffling his Cabinet, Mugabe was showing the nation that he had “run out of ideas” to turn around the fortunes of the country.
“This is evidence yet again that the Zanu PF state is neither capable of economic nor political reform, although it desperately needs this. On one hand, the state wants to move forward by reducing the wage bill, but promotes a bloated Cabinet on the other hand. That should tell you that it’s the end-game for Zanu PF and there is no doubt about that,” Mandaza said.
Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said at the weekend that for Zimbabwe to grow its economy, the country required “a new political and economic system, not constant Cabinet reshuffles”.
“Changing the Cabinet will not change anything for Mugabe. We need transformation of the whole system. Even (Aliko) Dangote will not do anything to change the country’s economic fortunes because this economy does not need $400 million, it needs $15 billion. So, Dangote or no Dangote, nothing will change as long as Mugabe is there,” he said.
University of Kent law lecturer Alex Magaisa said Mugabe’s decision to increase the size of his Cabinet, at a time when he should be reducing expenditure — and thus defying both economic and common sense — pointed to Zanu PF’s succession conundrum.
“What is certain is that after the persecution and expulsion of former Vice President Joice Mujuru last year, the factions that were only united by the convenience of the hour, are now in a vicious competition of their own.
“Instead of dealing with the succession issue more decisively, president Mugabe is taking the route of appeasement — keep them happy. But the internecine fight is, of course, to his advantage,” Magaisa wrote on his personal blog.
He also noted that as the ruling party’s two main warring factions — one favouring Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the other pushing for the Generation 40 that is said to include Cabinet ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere — squabble between themselves, Mugabe was in the meantime spared the excesses of their ambitions.
“All he has to do is to manage the fight. This latest batch of appointments is part of that management process. It’s a tactic he has used all his career and one that likely, he will keep using until the very end. Whatever happens after he’s departed is not his primary concern,” Magaisa said.
Another analyst, Stuart Lowman, said while there was nothing unusual per se with Cabinet reshuffles, the problem in this case was with the “reshuffler”.
“Ultimately, it’s like a game of chess and the pawns are just draw cards that distract from those playing the game. So to expect anything different would scream madness. Mugabe is however, playing his cards close to his heart as one of his new recruits is his nephew, who’s driving yet more empowerment,” he said.
Analysts who spoke to the Daily News last week also described the new Cabinet appointments as both “uninspiring” and “a complete waste” of scarce State resources, at a time that the country is said to have hit the depths of humanitarian and economic despair that were last experienced in 2008, when Zimbabwe’s perennial political crisis precipitated an economic meltdown of monumental proportions which culminated in the death of the Zimbabwe dollar.
At the same time, Zanu PF insiders said the superfluous Cabinet additions and ministerial re-assignments were a desperate endeavour by the embattled nonagenarian to manage the ruling party’s escalating ructions, that began with the ill-conceived purge of Mujuru and other liberation struggle stalwarts late last year, and in which Mugabe’s controversial wife, Grace, played a starring role. Daily News