Zim’s alleged externalisers list: Obscuring private, public wealth to shortchange the national wealth
By Takura Zhangazha*
In late 2017, the new (and current) Zimbabwean government announced a general amnesty for individuals/corporates that had allegedly not accounted to the national Reserve Bank for foreign currency that they sent out of the country in lieu of specific commodities/goods and services.
Against the backdrop of the ‘coup-not-a-coup ouster’ of former president Robert Mugabe, this announcement raised high expectations from ordinary Zimbabweans. The public was highly optimistic as to the law eventually catching up with those that had benefited from the latter’s presidents long drawn leadership of the state and by default, the national economy.
This, as a result of a popular public perception of the ruling Zanu Party as being corrupt and preoccupied with enriching its leaders via the levers of state power.
So Mnangagwa issued the equivalent of an edict to what one assumes are his companieros to, in South African political parlance, ‘pay back the money’. Or at least prove it came back to country in cash or kind. He even had the luxury of extending the ‘amnesty’ for a further two weeks after its expiry in March 2018.
As promised he published a list of those who allegedly did not account for the money, largely in US$ cash format.
It’s a list that it turns out has disappointed many a pundit and opposition politician. It is also a list that has angered those that are in private businesses who are either on the list or sympathise with those on it.
Except that the list is as technical as it is political. Corporate lawyers, individuals, political players and those close to all of the above have decried the injustice of it all. Not only on technical grounds such as the CD1 form and the inefficiency of both local and central banks information capturing systems. But more ominously for Mnangagwa’s government, the potential defamation lawsuits of having published such a list in the first place.
But Mnangagwa never intended for the list to be legally or politically water tight. His intention was to always to call the bluff of the wannabe middle and upper class. Not by way of production. Instead more by way of ‘lifestyle aspirations’. That is, to have house in the suburbs, or at least the equivalent of the same. No matter how much it would cost, including the legal risks associated with evading monetary exchange of control regulation acts.
So in the pub conversations that the list has wrought on, we must ask ourselves serious questions about its broader meaning.
If we take the angle of querying the political economic culture that informs what we understand as the ‘ease of doing business’, we would argue, like defence lawyers, that there is nothing remiss in someone, with the assistance of the state (Reserve Bank) taking his/her money out of the country, by whatever means, in order to make a profit.
Unless we never understood how capital’s relentless pursuit of profit has been the arbiter and cause of our current national economic crisis.
And also because of how opaque our private, public and national wealth management systems are.
Some of us may not understand what national wealth is, so a rejoinder might help. As the French economist Thomas Piketty has posited: ‘national wealth=private wealth + public wealth’.
To be overly simplistic, what the Zimbabwean government has done is to try and conflate what would be public wealth (the Reserve Bank for example) with that of private capital (individually accumulated capital, for example, profit from a private company).
So the anger about the ‘list’ is not so much about a structural understanding of what’s really going on in Zimbabwe’s political economy. Instead it is about preference.
Defending those on the list may be now a matter for legal minds. Either on the basis of technicalities such as what happened at the Reserve Bank or accusations of civil defamation.
The more significant issue is that those who sought and supposedly got amnesty may have done much more serious ‘externalisation’ and justified it in ways that we will perhaps never know.
What is apparent is that hazy nexus between public wealth and private wealth. It is designed in such a way as to ensure that the public wealth (land, minerals etc) is no longer being used to create national but private wealth. And that’s where the bigger problem resides. Even before we start pulling out economic or legal expertise to explain this aberration away in the name of the ‘free market’.
It is the instrumentalisation of the state to create largely private wealth that is the biggest problem our country faces. Lists or no lists.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)