By John Kachembere
President Robert Mugabe on Monday night announced a widely anticipated mini-Cabinet reshuffle, his second in two years. Mugabe made eight new appointments, reassigned 10 other ministers and dropped three others. Without question, though, the most significant and concerning was the re-deployment of Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Patrick Chinamasa, to an obscure portfolio of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation.
Before implementing the changes, Mugabe, 93, had warned he would sack underperforming ministers and replace them with an efficient team to drive the economy.
“But we must also look at ourselves and say to ourselves, ‘Well, have we, all of us, co-operated together or are there some amongst us who, although they were given positions, and although they are good members of the party, but have not done well?’ And also in government per se; although we appointed people to certain positions, did they live up to the calling of those position,” he said while addressing a ZANU-PF youth meeting in Harare last weekend.
Economic analysts, however, said the latest Cabinet reshuffle will not do much to boost investor confidence and salvage the economy from collapse. Zimbabwe is facing serious foreign currency shortages, resulting in businesses experiencing long delays in paying for imports.
“It’s a continuation of the same thing. I don’t see any meaningful changes that will be brought by the latest Cabinet changes,” economist, Kipson Gundani, said. He noted that while Chinamasa had presided over the growth of fiscal deficit during his tenure, he was not to blame for the crisis.
“Overall it’s a government problem. No matter what kind of minister you have as long as the government thinking is not aligned to reducing recurrent expenditure, nothing will change in the economy,” Gundani added.
The country has experienced budget deficits in the past four years, with Chinamasa predicting that Zimbabwe is facing a $1,4 billion deficit this year.
This has resulted in government borrowing on the domestic market to plug the fiscal deficit.
This is despite repeated warnings from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that uncapped government expenditure would destabilise the economy.
NKC African Economics analyst, Gary van Staden, said the latest Cabinet reshuffle was clearly all about loyalty, factions and putting Mugabe first at the expense of the country.
“It had nothing to do with competence, improving the economy and financial situation or suggesting Zimbabwe could pull out of its terminal dive. The inevitable consequence of that is that it will not pull the country out of crisis,” he said.
Economic experts also assert that the appointment of Ignatius Chombo, whose record in government has been tainted by allegations of corruption, as finance minister would further dampen investor confidence.
Chombo, who has been in government for the past 17 years, is believed to have accumulated his riches when he was local government minister.
The former home affairs minister’s properties, revealed during his divorce proceedings, include 75 residential and commercial stands, 14 houses and five flats.
He also owns a 3 100 hectare farm in Rafingora, 15 vehicles and has interests in several farms, mines and hunting safari lodges in Hwange, Chiredzi, Magunje and Chirundu.
Gundani said he hoped Chombo would continue with the arrears clearance programme initiated by Chinamasa to repay Zimbabwe’s external debts to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The arrears clearance plan, which received support from creditors and development partners, envisaged clearing US$1,8 billion debt arrears to preferred creditors and unlock US$2 billion in new funding.
However, Zimbabwe has failed to implement the debt repayment strategy due to lack of funding.
The country’s debt arrears amount to US$5,6 billion split between multilateral creditors (US$2,2 billion), the Paris Club, an informal grouping of creditor nations (US$2,7 billion), and non-Paris Club creditors (US$700 million). It owes the Paris Club about US$6 billion.
“One also hopes that in Walter Mzembi — a young and energetic minister — the country’s normalisation of relations with the West might gather momentum and help end isolation,” Gundani said.
Mzembi, one of the longest serving tourism ministers in Africa, was reassigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, taking over from Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, who now heads the Macro-Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Ministry.
Zimbabwe has endured international isolation for the past 16 years after the United States and European Union imposed sanctions and travel bans on individuals and companies linked to President Mugabe’s regime over alleged human rights abuses in the country.
The sanctions include an arms embargo.
Obert Mpofu, formerly the minister of Macro-Economic Planning and Investment Promotion, is now the Minister of Home Affairs; Patrick Zhuwao, who headed the Ministry Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, which was given to Chiratidzo Mabuwa, is now the Minister of Public Service.
The ruling ZANU-PF party spokesman, Simon Khaya-Moyo, is now the Minister of Information, taking over from Chris Mushohwe, who becomes the Minister of National Scholarships.
Edgar Mbwembwe takes over from Mzembi as Minister of Tourism, while former director of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Happyton Bonyongwe, is the new Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, a portfolio previously under Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Former Bulawayo Metropolitan Minister, Cain Mathema, is now the Minister of War Veterans, taking over from, Tshinga Dube who was dropped from Cabinet. The Minister of Matebeleland South is now Maboyi Ncube, while the Minister Matebeleland North is now Thokozile Mathuthu.
Webster Shamu bounced back as Minister for Mashonaland West province, while Paul Chimedza is now the Minister for Masvingo province, replacing the late Shuvai Mahofa. The Financial Gazette