Zimbabwe: Five Priority Reforms for a Sustainable Recovery from Covid-19

Source: 22 September 2020Democracy, Economy, Health

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused an unprecedented strain to Zimbabwe’s already ailing health system, social service, political environment and the economy, threatening to undermine progress and jeopardize vision 2030’s long-term goals, including economic transformation. However, as the government puts in place measures to recover, there are certain policy measures that, if prioritized, can help Zimbabwe recover more quickly after the crisis.

The Africa Development Bank expected Zimbabwe’s economy to recover with a GDP growth of 4.6 percent in 2020 and 5.6 percent in 2021 if corrective measures were taken. Important to Zimbabwe’s recovery would be increased public-private investments, regeneration of civil society-government engagement and the establishment of a new social contract to accelerate reforms. But as the first case of the Coronavirus was reported in the country and the cases began to soar, the systematic and structural challenges crippling the country became even more visible.

Government announced several regulations to help respond to the pandemic, including restricting movement and encouraging “stay at home” measures and emergency fiscal and social protection policies. Zimbabwe committed ZWL$18 billion to support preparedness and response which is equivalent to about 9 percent of the country’s GDP. The International Monetary Fund reported that Zimbabwe was looking to raise US$300 million to respond to the pandemic from humanitarian assistance through engagement with development partners. As of July 2020, humanitarian support disbursements were US$26.9 million against the US$202.6 pledges. The international community also responded with various measures of emergency relief such as donations, grants and loans, while the G20 agreed to temporarily halt debt payments for the world’s poorest countries including Zimbabwe.

However, as the government makes the necessary economic and social adjustments to recover from the pandemic, it is critical to ensure the sustainable and transformation agenda is not permanently derailed. In fact, the Coronavirus pandemic should be seen as an opportunity for the government to put in place structural and policy reforms to support economic growth and social development in the short-term to strengthen the medium to long-term recovery efforts.

The following five policy priorities will help position Zimbabwe to recover from the pandemic, allow a rapid, sustainable economic and social recovery. These policy priorities include; 1) transparency and oversight, 2) participatory accountability for delivery and results 3) investment in digital innovation, 4) establish a new social compact, 5) improve public-private investments

Transparency and Oversight

Government reallocated the budget through the Fiscal Mitigation Measures meant to put in place an emergency stimulus package to help respond and recover from the pandemic. The huge amount of financial resources require government to use the urgency of the crisis to ensure all public monies are used in the most efficient manner. Spending on activities that either respond directly to the crisis, cushion citizens or on activities that promote growth and economic transformation. It is critical for the government to improve transparency and oversight implementation to ensure resources go to their intended beneficiaries, minimize inefficiency and corruption. Results-based budgeting should be introduced to ensure resources are spent on critical and strategic activities that help the country effectively recover from the pandemic. The capacity of institutions such as the Auditor General (AG), Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ), and the Financial Intelligence Centre should be strengthened for effective and robust procurement, audits, monitoring and reviews. Publish in real-time budgets, expenditures and audit reports within three weeks in easily readable formats.

Participatory Accountability for Delivery and Results

Given the fiscal challenges facing the country, the government should move to consolidate initiatives for improved efficiency, effectiveness and impact, resulting in significant delivery. The huge amounts allocated for the stimulus package create an opportunity to build and institutionalize the culture of accountability in delivery and results. Inter-ministerial, whole-of-government task forces, parliament, judicial and quasi-government institutions need to be strengthened to be able hold both private and public institutions accountable for public expenditures. Beyond formal oversight mechanisms, government, civil society and business associations need to shape and monitor the stimulus package to ensure that it has the desired impact. This means checking that those vulnerable households eligible for safety nets and cash transfers get their support and informal sector businesses who may not be on the government’s radar receive targeted youth and SME support. Important is to empower civil society groups representing the marginalized and vulnerable groups to amplify their voices in shaping and monitoring safety-net programs.

Investment in Digital Innovation

Zimbabwe, just like any government in Africa, is looking to find new and innovative solutions to old problems and to crowdsource finance to spur employment. There is a rapid increase in the use of “contactless” technologies for business, health care, education and learning. Zimbabwe needs to create an enabling environment to accelerate the digital economy and foster rapid and broad innovation. Privately owned start-up innovation hubs are thriving in Zimbabwe, but most of them are disconnected from government policy and government-led programmes. Zimbabwe should prioritize a more robust and interconnected innovation ecosystem between entrepreneurs and tech hubs, funders, policymakers and other government actors. Government and policymakers in particular have an important role to play in supporting an innovation ecosystem by ensuring ease of entry for entrepreneurs and maintaining robust public-private dialogue.

Establish a New Social Compact

The pandemic has caused unique challenges to Zimbabwe, compelling government, business, trade unions, civil society and citizens alike to take unprecedented mitigating actions. In this shared struggle, collective action built on trust between government, business, civil society, trade unions and citizens can be key for successful, mutually reinforcing recovery to the Coronavirus crisis. Protecting lives and protecting livelihoods are the twin pillars of the global response, which can be achieved by harnessing and deploying tools at all levels of government to build a mechanism for collective action and trust-building. Zimbabwe to establish a new social compact that includes government, civil society, trade unions, citizens and business to help effectively deliver public services, catalyze civic innovation, and ensure the stimulus packages put in place by the government get to where they need to be.

Effective Public-Private Investments

To sustain the business sector, Zimbabwe has instituted a stimulus package to temporarily cushion the individuals and small-medium companies. But beyond the immediate impact of the lock-down government should focus primarily on ensuring an improved environment for business and investment, particularly in key sectors such as agriculture, mining, infrastructure and technology. The investment pipeline should be re-assessed together with the business sector to prioritize those projects that are in the greatest national interest, to lead to job creation, and have the largest economic impact in the medium term. Zimbabwe scored an average of 54.5 percent ranking 140 out of 190 economies in the Doing Business 2020. Extraordinary efforts will need to be taken to address the most pressing binding constraints to business for instance property rights, contract enforcement and reliable provision of utilities.

Conclusion

NewThinking Development encourages collaboration between state and non-state actors for the implementation of these reforms. To build the necessary collaborations and implementation of these reforms will require political leadership, a transformative agenda and putting citizens first. Government leadership will need to inspire, share their vision and rise to the challenge to carry citizens with them to show empathy and understanding, while trying their best to channel resources to the most affected communities.

It is vital for the government to move quickly to put in place mechanisms to monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the emergency stimulus package. This minimizes the risk of corruption and ensures the safety nets get to their intended beneficiaries. Governments should put in place tools to monitor the emergency stimulus together with citizens, civil society, media and business. This collaboration offers a unique approach by combining government transparency, with the active participation of citizens and oversight institutions to ensure that the funds achieve their intended goals and reach the poor and marginalized. The overall impact of poor governance is that it diminishes the few resources that are available to the government for recovery from the Coronavirus.

Source: NewThinking Development