IT is an established fact in public policy that a national budget is easily the most potent instrument at the disposal of any serious government.
The 2024 National Budget presented to Parliament by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube on Thursday is the latest evidence of a clueless government which has long subverted the public interest and is now sacrificing the last vestiges of goodwill on the altar of self-aggrandisement.
How on earth does a government presiding over the world’s highest inflation and the world’s most volatile currency proceed to burden long-suffering taxpayers with an additional raft of cruel taxes?
The elephant in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House is corruption. The corruption at the heart of the dysfunctional Zimbabwean state is so insidious that it is now tantamount to a massive hidden tax on growth and investment.
This is the long-overdue conversation Mnangagwa and his overpaid ministers should be having.
Every year, journalists and the Auditor-General’s office have been unearthing evidence of criminality in the management of public funds, but the Zanu PF government has repeatedly turned a blind eye. Corruption has become a lifestyle.
The theft of taxpayers’ money is only part of a wider governance crisis. Another glaring problem is the looting of mineral resources.
Zimbabwe’s vast mineral endowment is not benefitting the citizens. It is lining the pockets of the political elites and their cronies. Picture this: the President’s niece is caught at the country’s main airport while smuggling 6kg of gold. What do the compromised courts do?
They ensure that she gets away scot free, with little more than a rap on the knuckles. Meanwhile, when a poverty-stricken citizen is caught with just two grammes of gold, the punishment is severe.
Zimbabwe is a crime scene. Corruption is no longer a mild headache; it has become a life-threatening cancer imperiling the very survival of the nation state.
This pernicious privatisation of public policy has gained momentum since Mnangagwa rose to power in 2017 on the back of a military coup.
From Command Agriculture to mineral smuggling and cabinet appointments, the powerful political elites and their cronies in the corporate sector are colluding to subvert public institutions, monopolise state power in their clans and sectarian enclaves and basically capture state power for private gain.
The malaise is everywhere: parastatals, public procurement, state-funded programmes, mining sector, the list is endless. It is the sum total of what is known as the Zimbabwean gravy train.
Make no mistake, the costs of corruption are catastrophic.
If a country like Botswana can leverage its good governance ethos on just one mineral, diamonds, to deliver a decent standard of living to citizens, Zimbabwe — with its gold, platinum, lithium, chrome, diamonds, nickel and 50 other minerals — should be an astonishing economic miracle in Africa. But a country run by thieves cannot achieve desirable social outcomes.
The selfish rulers, instead of working towards the common good, are preoccupied with rent-seeking behaviour, perpetuating inefficient policies and economic squalor.
The results are everywhere to see: primitive diseases, crumbling hospitals, dilapidated roads, rotten parastatals, ever-rising taxes, massive unemployment, extreme poverty, worthless currency and astonishing levels of social dislocation.
To add insult to injury, the uncaring Zanu PF government is pampering multinational companies with generous tax incentives while burdening citizens with scandalous taxes.
This is widening the economic inequality gap between the rich and the poor in the country.
But again, ultimately, a country gets the budget it deserves. Nobody is coming to rescue citizens who are too lax for their own good.