Sunday, September 30, 2012

IMF Must Take Off Its Mask In Zimbabwe

IMF must take off its mask

Sunday, 30 September 2012 00:00
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

As public consultations to gather input for the 2013 National Budget begin, Zimbabwe’s economy is once again under the spotlight. We can now expect all manner of crazy prescriptions from the usual suspects. One of these, the International Monetary Fund — which is actually part of the problem and not the solution — has taken the opportunity to issue a statement saying Zimbabwe’s economic growth rate will slow down to 5 percent this year from last year’s 9,4 percent.

The IMF, in its annual review of the economy last week, makes a few useful observations, but the entire document is then blighted by a disingenuous attempt to score cheap political points.

Quite amazingly, the IMF insinuates that the two salary increments awarded to civil servants since 2011 have drastically ballooned the Government’s employment costs by 22 percent, weighing down on the economy.

The IMF then accuses the Government of worsening the situation through “an increase in employee allowances and unbudgeted recruitment”.

In other words, the IMF is saying the Government must never have awarded civil servants any increment since dollarisation.

There is no doubt that the Bretton Woods institution is also sending a coded message to Cabinet to completely reject any proposition to award a civil service salary increment this year or in 2013.

The IMF cites “an uncertain political situation ahead of elections” as one of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with the Zimbabwean economy.

Reading the annual review, you are left convinced that beneath the IMF mask is the frowning face of the US political establishment.

In a less-than-convincing way, the IMF is hard-pressed to portray itself as an apolitical and dispassionate player in Zimbabwe’s economy.

This, of course, is deception of the worst kind.

Well, if the IMF mandarins and their handlers in Washington DC think they can continue fooling the people of Africa, then they are in for a rude surprise.

Western capitalism is on the decline anyway.

Africa is forging strong economic relations with China and India.

From all indications, the Western governments will realise, when it is too late, how unsustainable their political grandstanding has been.

Zimbabwe is under illegal US and EU sanctions and, as a direct consequence, the nation is not getting critically needed balance of payments support from so-called multi-lateral lenders like the IMF and the World Bank.

The IMF directors can go ahead and continue peddling all sorts of lame excuses for refusing to extend funding to Zimbabwe, but the truth remains that they are under strict instructions from US Congress to play hard ball with Harare.

This explains the IMF’s sickening obsession with containing “the growth of the civil service wage bill” while tellingly maintaining a deafening silence on the evil sanctions which have ruined the lives of millions of Zimbabweans.

The reason for this is simple: the IMF is part of the US financial arsenal which is viciously unleashed on countries that stubbornly refuse to be bullied.

Instead of preaching from an ivory tower about the need for Zimbabwe to “remove irregularly hired workers from the payroll”, the IMF must be telling the US Congress to scrap the illegally imposed sanctions.

Ha-Joon Chang, the leading Cambridge economist, has often poked fun at the IMF, noting that the institution has been so thoroughly discredited by its dismal track record in the 1980s and ’90s that it decided to change the name of its flagship programme from “economic structural adjustment programmes” to today’s “poverty reduction programmes”.

Different name, same poison. Nobody is fooled by such trickery.

The IMF’s latest utterances are worth interrogating because, as everyone in this country now knows, the Bretton Woods institution enjoys a hypnotic influence on Finance Minister Tendai Biti’s thinking.

Biti will never be found denouncing the IMF, no matter how nonsensical its prescriptions sound.

Hopefully, Minister Biti will stop kowtowing to the whims of the IMF and start listening to the people of Zimbabwe.

No serious economist or institution can tell Zimbabwe’s long-suffering civil servants to tighten their belts.

Just how does an under-paid worker tighten his belt without harming himself and his family?

Not so long ago, it is this nonsensical belt-tightening IMF prescription which damaged Zimbabwe’s economy.

The State was forced to cut spending on the social sectors of education, health and public amenities.

What was the result?

Zimbabwe’s economy suffered catastrophic damage whose ramifications are still being felt to this day.

In this part of the world, the IMF has much to atone for.

The hypocrisy of the IMF and the World Bank is that, while they instruct African, Latin American and Asian nations to “cut on spending”, they turn a blind eye to Western governments that are spending like there is no tomorrow.

To these high priests of capitalism, the social contract, as we know it, is only applicable to the rich industrialised countries of the West.

According to the IMF’s worldview, in Africa the social contract is not worth the paper it is written on.

Such insensitivity is callous, irresponsible and racist.

Why should an under-paid teacher in Harare be told to tighten her belt yet her counterpart in London is being praised for demanding higher pay?

Why the double standards?

So, as Minister Biti goes around the country, seeking people’s input for the 2013 national Budget, he is best advised to do so with an open mind.

Unlike the IMF which sees the people of Zimbabwe as nothing but numbers and statistics, Biti must be told that these are real human beings with real challenges and real aspirations.

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