Specification as an instrument of public policy


    In the corridors of business, words like specification are rarely used. Africa’s corporate civilisation is short and one has to appreciate the daily challenges faced by policy makers in trying to balance interests at play in the enterprise of nation building. Most of Africa’s so-called democratic governments draw their legitimacy from the poor majority whose relationship with the corporate world is most pronounced as consumers than suppliers of goods and services.

    The challenges faced by African economies in the context of the national democratic revolution are not unique what is unique is that very few governments acknowledge and accept that they may have failed to appreciate the concept of a nation state and their role in it.

    Many of us expect answers on why the African’s story is full of excuses and is often characterised by backward looking ideas that place the past as the biggest constraint to the quest for moving forward.Often we blame the advanced countries for the lack of progress in Africa. In fact, we easily succumb to cheap politics and propaganda that sees the wealthy as deriving their wealth from denying the poor access to opportunities instead of seeing wealth creation as a consequence of effort and creativity.If you have nothing to sell then it follows to reason that no one will be on the other side of the value stream.

    Ordinarily many of us see poverty as consequence of the direct manipulation of the rich. If the rich are rich because of the poor then surely the role of the state can be reduced to an instrument to level the playing field.

    So when Zimbabwe’s fortunes nose-dived, it was always expected that politicians would abdicate and imperialism would be a target but more importantly those who dared climb up the opportunity ladder would be on the receiving end.For Zimbabwe, the land issue had to take a political context not only because its origin was political and non-market driven but because the poverty that has visited the country was not anticipated. In the absence of any rational explanation about the real causes of the increasing poverty in post-colonial Zimbabwe, the need to manufacture enemies became a priority.

    Once it was accepted that the asset called land could be acquired without the intermediation of the market and, in fact, that state power could be used to increase market bargaining power, it was obvious that state actors would not be discouraged from using the instruments of state power to change asset ownership patterns.The first targets were necessarily black because there were no convenient answers as to why certain black people were doing well against a background of a decaying economy.

    The only rational explanation was that such blacks were generally corrupt and the most appropriate response was to use the criminal code to reverse the gains. This was done systematically and the victims were publicised so that the general public could appreciate the undertones of the ensuing ideological debate about what kind of society was required to advance the national democratic revolution.

    Without a visible complainant the state found it convenient to interpose itself in commercial disputes. The only way the state could interfere with corporate decision-making was to use the Prevention of Corruption Act as a mechanism of creating a person in the form of an Investigator. The Meikles saga is one of many such attempts by the state to flex its muscle in commercial disputes.

    The dominant political culture in Zimbabwe sees the motives and conduct of business as corrupt. Instead of adopting an approach that invites and welcomes business the approach of intimidation is the preferred option.No country has advanced its cause through intimidation. An environment characterized by fear is hardly the one that any progressive country needs.

    The experience with state intervention in business has not been a good one in Africa. Equally, the state as a referee has not done exceptionally well to engender confidence from dynamic and creative players. It is evident that the change of government in 1980 did not discourage the previously advantaged from expressing confidence in the new dispensation with investment.

    The sad truth about the KMAL saga is that it was a well intentioned initiative in response to the call for black economic empowerment. The inability of private actors to resolve their differences and surrender themselves to the state as the ultimate adjudicator and manipulator of property rights exposes a frightening truth about our collective understanding of the values, principles and beliefs that are required for business growth and development.

    Moxon and Chanakira are both Zimbabweans but when a point when one Zimbabwean thinks he is more entitled to Zimbabwe by virtue of his color then one must know that the wheels are off and the remedy may not lies exclusively in the political domain.Was Moxon specified at the instigation of Chanakira?

    This question can only be best answered by the actors themselves but what is clear is that the role of the state is regrettable and to the extent that this action is one of many actions that have been taken that has resulted in the alteration of property rights then one has no choice but to pause and reflect on the implications of the state acting in the manner it is doing even under the inclusive government.Specification of companies has the effect of qualifying the rights of the affected natural and artificial persons.

    What is alarming is that a predatory state through this instrument places itself in a position where it can control and manage the affairs of the affected parties with no recourse to the courts. For listed companies, the implications are dire and for the country in general it effectively means that the protection offered by the constitution against deprivation of property and human rights is waived.We now know that Hon. Mutsekwa may not have fully comprehended the implications of appending his signature to the specification order.

    However, there can be no doubt that there is a meeting of the minds that state power can induce citizens to comply with order, however, draconian they may be. Potential investors have no choice but to critically examine how state power has been used since 2004 to interfere and undermine property and human rights.

    More importantly, it is important to examine how the judiciary has assisted with no resistance the encroachment of the state in commercial affairs of business. There are a number of judgments that demonstrate judicial tolerance of the application of the anti-corruption legislation in undermining property rights. Unless these cases are understood it may appear that it is only Meikles that has fallen victim to this kind of abuse of state power.