Zimbabweans were presented with the news recently that the country only benefited US$2 billion out of a possible $15 billion from its diamond reserves. What happened or who is at fault is a subject that is currently beyond this post but what we set out to do is to explore what the country could have done with $15 billion.
Below is a list of 15 areas that had Zimbabwe had the money, surely the Government could have invested in for the betterment of its people:
1. Food Security
Currently faced with a severe drought due to El Nino (the most severe in 20 years for that matter), a recent plea was made for $1.5 billion in food aid to avoid mass starvation in the country. As the drought worsens, 3 million people have been left without food and Government officials were appealing to local businesses and charities to help combat brutal hunger across the nation.
2. Farming and Agriculture
A more long-term approach to our food reserves needs to be addressed, as since losing the “bread basket of Africa” title, we have become consumers rather than producers. The land redistribution exercise was undoubtedly a much-needed exercise but capacity building of our new farmers needs to take place. ‘Farm inputs‘, ‘farm inputs‘ is the cry annually but very little return is benefited from such investments.
Healthcare is an area that the Government seems to have slacked over the last couple of years. Though being a part of the Abuja Declaration of 2001 where signatories pledged to allocate at least 15% of their national budget towards healthcare, we’ve hovered around the 6% figure. No doubt the country’s hospitals are in need of attention both inside and out.
The need for providing cheap/affordable (gosh, even free) access to healthcare can not be emphasised enough. The cost of getting medical attention is beyond many and Government stepping in in this regard would assist many.
4. Drugs and Medication
A recent report stated that the country had run out of medication at Government hospitals for its patients, seeing patients needing to by “simple things like painkillers”. This situation has put the lives of millions at risk, with no figures being readily available as to how many may have succumbed due to unavailability of drugs, we can only imagine.
NatPharm, the Government appointed agent for procurement, storage and distribution of medical supplies to Public health institutions have stated that it need “just” $5 million per year (that’s 0.000 333% of $15 billion) to meet the national drug demand!
The Government was recently in the media stating that considering to introduce ‘hot-sitting’ due to the unavailability of adequate educational facilities.
It is said that only 5700 primary schools and 2200 secondary schools are available to absorb 2,450,000 and 850,000 learners respectively, with the Minister of Education stating that 2,000 new schools would be built to mitigate the problem. Surely $15 billion could have built all the 2000 schools, plus furnished and put the necessary learning materials on every desk on all the primary and secondary schools in the country – yeah, that’s the kind of stuff that $15 billion US$ can do.
6. SME sector and Manufacturers
Having come out of the hyper-inflationary period battered and bruised most small to medium business have been finding it hard to find their footing. Outdated tools and machinery coupled with high input costs have made it difficult for them to contend with cheap imports. Investment in the region of $15 billion could have seen the industry getting back on its feet, producing more cost effectively had they newer technology and even the possibility of exporting to the region and internationally again.
Lost cost houses, or any type of housing for that matter, are expensive for the ordinary man on the street. With the demolitions that have been taking place unabated, affordable shelter would have been greatly appreciated. The cost of accommodation makes up the bulk of one’s monthly budget and had Government stepped into provide cheap accommodation, whether through renting or buying, a large percentage of the population who have a major headache on their shoulders.
8. Road Infrastructure
Most of the roads in towns and cities now have less tar than potholes and this is an area that the post-Independence Government has not paid much attention to. Had the money gone towards creating dual carriageways on our major highways and improving the road network, being positioned where it is, Zimbabwe could be benefitting immensely with the passage of traffic. “Just” $1,3 billion is needed to start and complete the job.
No need to mention the lives that could have been saved had the poor state of the roads been attended to.
9. Transport System
The Zimbabwe Government currently does not own the transport system in the country, having privatised it in the mid-1990s. This has created chaos and confusion, sometimes at the cost of people’s lives, as mini-bus operators either evade the police or rush to meet daily cash targets set by the owners of the vehicles.
Had money gone into rebuilding ZUPCO (no, we won’t talk about its managerial issues), Air Zimbabwe and the National Railways of Zimbabwe, cost of travel would have been considerably lower and subsequently production costs.
10. ICT Infrastructure
The Ministry of ICT made a hullabaloo about infrastructure sharing last year, threatening operators should they refuse to share their equipment. Had Government used a fraction of the $15 billion to trench fibre throughout the country, install (or buy) all the base stations from operators and rented them out, not only would we have been advanced with the infrastructure that we’d have on the ground but we’d have seen a reduction in cost of services from ICT players.
11. Energy – Electricity
Not much investment has taken place in power generation to the extent that the facilities that we inherited from the colonial Government is slowly falling apart. So bad was the situation that Zimbabweans were once plunged into 18-hour power cuts, a situation $15 billion could easily have avoided.
The Batoka Gorge Hydroelectric project that has been on the cards for some time now is said to be able to produce over 2400 MW (Zimbabwe has a power requirement of 2000 MW). Projected costs for the power station were a “mere” $2.5 – $3 billion and with $15 billion in the kitty they’d be no reason to go to bed with Zambia on such a project.
12. Water reticulation
Water cuts would be a thing of the past, every household would have flowing water and diseases like typhoid and cholera would be something we’d read in the history books. Had Zimbabwe invested in water works equipment or built a new processing plant altogether (why $15 billion can do that!) this would have enhanced the city’s ability to distribute treated water and reduce the need for residents to buy water from non-council sources.
13. Government Workers Upkeep
Wages for Government employees are a cause for concern as they often lead to job actions due to staff being discontent. While the argument may exist that the civil service is overstaffed and needs to be trimmed, undoubtedly $15 billion could have paid them their bonuses long ago and offered better wages too.
14. Tax Relief
With Zimbabeans said to be paying as much as 50% of their gross income towards taxes had Government had $15 billion in the bank surely the need to squeeze its citizens will be deminished and this could easily have translated into a relaxing of various taxes.
More disposable income for citizens will see them spending more and putting the money back into the economy thus reducing the current situation of a liduidity crunch that has been prevailing from as far back as 2013.
15. Local and Foreign Debts
Zimbabwe requires over $40 billion to get the economy’s wheels back on track and the $15 billion was never going to be enough. However, that $40 billion could have been provided through loans from financial institutions both regionally and internationally.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe owes close to $10 billion in loan repayments to organisations like IMF, World Bank, AfDB, as well as to the Chinese. $15 billion could have repaid installments that were due and helped us unlock more finances to get our economy on the road again.
As can be seen, an investment in just about an area would have had a ripple effect and create spin-off benefits like easing the liquidity crunch, higher employment and even better revenues to the fiscus.