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    Sunday, 25 August 2019

    Can Cross and the economists’ roundtable be trusted?

    By Toby Sithole
    A GROUP of people going by the name, the economists’ roundtable, seem to be usurping the role of national institutions whose constitutional responsibility is to advise government.
    For the avoidance of doubt, the economists’ roundtable is not in any way connected to the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC).
    The PAC was constituted by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in January this year to advise and assist him in formulating key economic policies and strategies that advance Vision 2030.
    The difference between the PAC and the economists’ roundtable is like day and night.
    Whereas the PAC has 17 clearly defined terms of reference, meets quarterly with President Mnangagwa for brainstorming or feedback meetings or on an ad-hoc basis as and when necessary, the economists’ roundtable has no terms of reference, nor a structured way of conducting its business.
    Unlike the PAC which serves at the pleasure of the President, it is not clear whose interests the economists’ roundtable serves and what could have motivated its establishment.
    The PAC’s composition is also balanced – drawing its representation from diverse sectors such as business, health and social protection, agriculture, governance and human rights, faith-based organisations, tourism, education, minorities, ICT, civic society, communication and media management.
    In contrast, the economists’ roundtable is essentially an amalgamation of economists that thinks and acts alike and whose views are beginning to sow seeds of division in government and the ruling Zanu PF party. This is unlike the PAC, which is non-partisan; proffers honest and sincere advice and whose members declare own interests whenever necessary.
    The PAC is also required to respect rules of confidentiality and trust and refrain from abusing proximity for unlawful and unethical ends. Its members should ensure that all advisory content generated and produced by PAC are a property of the President who assumes automatic copyright.
    While the economists’ roundtable claims to offer advice to government on a voluntary basis, its activities cannot pass the transparency and accountability test and have lately become a source of consternation and divisions in President Mnangagwa’s government through the actions of the roundtable’s spokesperson, Mr Eddie Cross.
    Lately, Mr Cross’ sharp criticism of President Mnangagwa has been met with mixed feelings. While some see this as a sign that democracy is alive in the new dispensation and that ideas are being allowed to compete without those exercising freedom of speech having to watch over their shoulders, others are worried that people who are outside government appear to have unfettered access to classified information which they generously share with Tom, Dick and Harry on social media and in the traditional media.
    Apart from fears that Mr Cross could also be treading a thin line as far as the Official Secrets Act is concerned, he appears to be targeting certain officials for ridicule and attack, including President Mnangagwa, while singing praises of Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube.
    In his latest instalment titled “The situation simply cannot go on”, released on August 14, 2019 – a day before a planned demonstration by the MDC party – Mr Cross stirs emotions over the economic crisis.
    He wrote: “This is a message to those who currently hold power in Zimbabwe. I do not really care about how you got into this position but now that you are there we need to ask you what you are going to use that huge power and influence on? We as a nation have been patient and forgiving, but what you are asking of us now is just too much and we simply cannot tolerate you continuing on the path that you seem to have chosen”.
    As is now the norm in most of his writings, he then singled out the Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube for praise, while savaging Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Dr John Mangudya and Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri.
    “As I said earlier, solutions to all our problems are available and just need to be adopted and implemented. We have a competent and experienced team in the Ministry of Finance – but their policies and programs are being subverted by a Reserve Bank that is simply out of control and seems to think they are protected. The Ministry of Agriculture is demanding billions to feed a corrupt system that includes the GMB which is rotten from the top to the bottom and can no longer do what it was created to do – it is a liability,” he said.
    In all his writings, Mr Cross heaps praises on Professor Ncube while blasting Dr Mangudya.
    “The decision to employ Mthuli Ncube as the minister of Finance was a carefully considered. Mthuli is not a politician, he has never been to Shake Shake or attended the Zanu PF politburo meeting, he and George (Guvamatanga) tells me that they are here for five years, just to fix things and they will go back to their professions. Mthuli is a clever guy and I think he is one of our outstanding children, he might be a small guy but he has a very big brain,” said Mr Cross.
    Lately, he has turned his guns on Mnangagwa and a few of his bureaucrats.
    Consistently, his argument has been that the government must do away with market controls on practically everything, which would be a recipe for disaster as that would simply make basics such as maize meal, drugs, electricity, and other items unaffordable.
    He argues in one of his contributions: “We need a market driven economy where prices are set by the market, including the price of foreign exchange and all foreign earnings should go through a proper market for such transactions. If we adopted such policies and strategies, we would discover we are in fact much richer than we thought and can at last afford to live decently and with dignity in the land of our birth”.
    Just like Mr John Robertson who situates every of Zimbabwe’s problem on the land reform programme, Mr Cross makes the point that government – despite its hamstrung budget – needs to payoff former white commercial farmers, whose properties were taken over by government for distribution to landless blacks as part of the land reforms.
    He argues: “We steadfastly fail to recognise that we have to compensate the old farmers and then give our new farmers security of tenure with bankable leases. Just that one quick measure – agreed and adopted in a day, would create billions of dollars in assets that our people could pledge for loans and finance agriculture on a sustainable basis”.
    I doubt if Mr Cross and the economists’ roundtable’s new found energy in populating their views on social media and in the mainstream media is purely out of the desire to propagate an alternative view.
    For what it is worth, while their megaphone advisory role provides fodder for newsmen, those in the corridors of power must not be fooled. They must convince themselves if Mr Cross, in particular, really had his damascene moment from the Rhodesia era when he used to be a member of the Rhodesian Army which was the chief underwriter of white minority interests.
    They must also not allow a group of people to usurp the role of PAC and other national institutions whose role is to advise government and its CEO.
    For feedback, contact Mr Toby Sithole on toby.sithole@yahoo.com. Mr Sithole is an expert in corporate governance. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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