Mugabe climbs down on reforms


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ZIMBABWE – President Robert Mugabe has literally bitten the proverbial bullet and endorsed a raft of far-reaching reforms meant to extricate Zimbabwe’s teetering economy out of the rut, The Standard has learnt. 

Mugabe seems to have abandoned his hardline stance after realising a continuation of his Marxist ideas would suck Zimbabwe into the cesspool, diplomatic sources said last week. Already Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya is in Europe on a whirlwind tour of the most critical block in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ahead of a make-or-break meeting in Lima, Peru in the first week of October.

“Mangudya is in Europe representing Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, to sensitise and plead with EU (European Union) capitals to give Zimbabwe a chance to at least begin negotiations for a medium term plan while setting aside its defaulted status with the IMF,” said a source close to the developments.

“Currently, cabinet is considering a white paper on reducing, not only the size of its workforce, but also the expenses going towards salaries. It does not need to be a brutal purge as happened with job losses after the Supreme Court ruling. It could be through natural means, like early retirements”.

The Standard’s sister paper, NewsDay reported last week that government was seriously considering laying-off most of its workers who were over the age of 50 with sources saying a data-gathering exercise was underway to ascertain how many were within this age range.

Chinamasa announced two weeks ago that Zimbabwe had requested for a meeting with the IMF on the sidelines of the Annual General Meeting in South America on October 8.

“The issue is the EU and US officials who will travel to Peru and attend the meeting at which Zimbabwe will table its debt resolution plan, are low-ranking officials. These do not make policy decisions, hence Harare will need a lot of buy-in from European and US capitals in particular in order for its proposals to sail through,” The Standard heard.

While IMF representative to Harare Christian Biddies refused to comment on whether the multi-lateral institution was satisfied with the level of political support from Zimbabwe, in particular Mugabe’s office, high-level government sources said Mugabe was “in”.

“He [Mugabe] is in. Zimbabweans will need to be patient and give this government a chance to present its proposals to the IMF in October. Everytime there has been a delegation from the World Bank and IMF, the secretary to the President and cabinet Misheck Sibanda and other senior officials have met them.

“This tells you the support from that [Mugabe’s] office is there. It means the President has thrown his weight behind the reform agenda,” an insider said.

Sibanda was not available for comment yesterday.

Mugabe has previously claimed his government could go it alone, but after a decade and half in the mire, the veteran nationalist could be realising he is fighting a losing battle.

Media reports yesterday said Mugabe, who is currently in Washington attending the United Nations general assembly, once again pleaded with western countries to “lift sanctions”.

“Freed of the fetters of sanctions, Zimbabwe will stand a better chance of implementing the goals,” Mugabe said.

Zimbabwe remains a delicate customer to deal with and World Bank as well as IMF officials in Harare seem jittery and “unwilling to upset the apple-cart”.

“It has been painstaking work to build the level of trust that we have at the moment. It could all crumble down any moment because of the antagonising forces within the government. There are senior cabinet officials who are against the reforms. But it is natural because they think those advancing reforms are selling out to the West.

“It is like dealing with a crank baby who could throw away the toys if they are upset. Mugabe oscillates between the reformists and those against the reforms from time to time and it is a handle-with-care kind of scenario,” a diplomatic official said on condition of anonymity.

War veterans affairs minister Christopher Mutsvangwa has not hidden his dislike for the reform process, while reports indicated that Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is also among hawks vociferously agitating against the move preferring a direct approach to the likes of China for budgetary support.

“We do not need the IMF, now we are dealing directly with international business. We are undercutting the IMF and the World Bank because these deal with left-wing government projects that have a lot of strings attached to them.

Rather than talking to a middleman, we are dealing directly with those who have money to invest,” Mutsvangwa told The Standard.

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