Chinamasa ought to choose pragmatism over populism
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has a delicate balancing act to perform today when he presents the national budget, as he has to choose between populism and pragmatism.
For decades now, successive Zanu PF Finance ministers have chosen to sacrifice pragmatism at the altar of sanctimony and this has had disastrous consequences for the Zimbabwean economy.
Chinamasa has been portrayed as somewhat of a maverick, who went against his former boss, Robert Mugabe’s wishes and twice he got his fingers burnt, but now he has the perfect chance to show who he really is.
As somewhat of a reformer, Chinamasa argued twice against bonuses and called for the cutting of allowances for civil servants among a host of reforms and we wait to see if he is that brave to make similar proposals.
The new administration only has eight months to impress and the question is whether they will throw caution to the wind and implement reforms or they will be too scared to rock the boat.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has for long been portrayed as someone who has an ear for business and he and his Finance minister have a chance to show this when the budget is announced.
The budgetary problems facing Zimbabwe are not new, they relate to the growing budget deficit, an unhealthy appetite for government spending and the suicidal dependence on Treasury Bills.
The civil service wage bill is also unsustainable and there is need for the government to act on this, no matter how unpopular.
Thus, Chinamasa will have to walk a tightrope, where he is likely to be criticised no matter what he does.
If he chooses austerity, cuts bonuses and allowances and fires ghost workers, this government could be shortlived and faces the ignominy of defeat at the next elections.
On the other hand, if he chooses populism, pays bonuses and does not implement any changes, then he will have a happy civil service, but tinkering on the brink and it will also show the world that Zimbabwe is not serious about economic reforms.
It is an unenviable task, but one that must be done nonetheless.
It will be the biggest signpost of this administration’s policy directive and it is one that potential investors will be eyeing very closely.
Thus, Chinamasa must know that Zimbabweans and the world are watching closely and this could determine the country’s immediate future.