EDITORIAL COMMENT: Govt must enforce domestic vehicle procurement

More than 4 500 new vehicles were imported from Japan, Europe and America. Among these were the Jeep Cherokees (pictured).

More than 4 500 new vehicles were imported from Japan, Europe and America. Among these were the Jeep Cherokees (pictured).

YESTERDAY we carried a sad story where Government makes important policy decisions which are either ignored or just forgotten. These have a detrimental impact on the economy.

In this particular case, Industrial Development Corporation chief executive Mike Ndudzo disclosed that as far back as 2002 Government gazetted a law requiring that all vehicles bought by the Government and other State-related institutions such as parastatals and State enterprises be procured locally.

This was meant to conserve scarce foreign currency as well as support the local vehicle assembly industry. This would also benefit the country by creating employment.

That has not happened and companies such as Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries are barely managing to keep afloat because that important Government decision was defied. While in 1997 the company was able to assemble 9 000 vehicles per year, per single shift, that figure has come down to as low as just over 4 500.

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Government departments, parastatals, and even our Members of Parliament, prefer to import vehicles despite foreign currency constraints. More than 4 500 new vehicles were imported from Japan last year. Of these, 857 were brands such as Toyota, Nissan (814), Isuzu (510) and Mazda (220).

Imports from Europe comprised 132 Land Rovers, 42 Mercedes Benz and 19 Jaguars. A total of 289 Hyundai were imported from South Korea.

From the United States, 736 Ford vehicles, 380 Chevrolet and 120 Jeep/Chrysler/Dodge were imported. All this is happening in the midst of grinding poverty, with many vehicles being imported from countries which have maintained debilitating sanctions on Zimbabwe.

We fail to understand how such an important policy decision could be flouted completely without any sanction. We even have Members of Parliament who should be playing an oversight role over the Executive joining in this criminal behaviour instead of defending the interests of the country.

There is no other way of describing this type of behaviour besides sabotage. Most of the people who love these luxury four-wheel drive vehicles have constituencies in urban areas. Those who have rural constituencies rarely visit, except around election time.

Mr Ndudzo said at the moment they don’t require money but a market to support the local industry. It is clear that WMMI cannot meet local demand. But a starting point would be to have a guaranteed market so that they gradually retool and increase numbers and the variety of brands.

We don’t understand the logic of our MPs and heads of parastatals and other Government departments being obsessed with importing brand new vehicles at a huge cost which the economy can ill-afford.

Many individuals insist that they want choice because local products are of poor quality. Government has no business stopping such people from importing what they want. It can, however, impose heavier duty for these luxuries. Zimbabwe is facing challenges in funding critical infrastructure such as power, water, hospitals and roads. Every dollar counts.

It doesn’t make much sense that Government talks about beneficiation and value addition under Zim-Asset which require fresh investment, but neglects vital infrastructure already available at Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries.

That means Zimbabwe is not only exporting unprocessed raw materials at little value, but a lot of foreign currency and jobs are being exported as well. We are instead spending a lot of foreign currency in supporting foreign companies which are performing far better than our own and then complain about lack of employment creation back home.

There is an urgent need to get our priorities right. And the starting point is for Government to find out why that important policy decision taken more than a dozen years ago has not been implemented. This is very important because, more likely than not, it is just one of many such policies which are simply ignored.

That is why it is important to put into immediate practice the newly announced performance based contracts so that people are paid for their output not merely sitting in the office.