What Government must do
I come to you under very difficult circumstances in our country and indeed in the whole world. Let us begin by observing a minute of silence for all the COVID-19 victims in Zimbabwe and across the nations of the world.
We are in difficult times and a deep crisis. This is a crisis like no other, and there is substantial uncertainty about its impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. In the days ahead, a lot depends on the epidemiology of the virus, the effectiveness of containment measures, and the development of therapeutics and vaccines, all of which are hard to predict.
Our country faces multiple crises—a health crisis, a financial crisis, and a poverty crisis, which all interact in complex ways, presenting unprecedented challenges to households, companies, traders and financial markets. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing more than just a medical problem. The pathogen has wrought staggering death tolls and wrecked livelihoods across the world.
Economies across the globe are under severe strain. Supply chains have been radically disrupted, tourism and air travel is paralysed and currency markets are at an all-time low. We are witnessing unprecedented supply and demand side shocks. Global economy engines are stalling. The economy we knew is on a down spiral. The game has completely changed.
The Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe estimates revenue loss of $400 million. The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority recorded 80% booking cancellations. The CZI records that 46% of local firms had their supply chains disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis. Diaspora remittances are likely to decline from the US$635.4 million mark in 2019.
Manufacturers and small-to-medium enterprises face the prospect of not reopening after lifting of lockdowns unless they too, receive massive bailouts. Consequently, the Zimbabwean citizens are now faced with two impossible choices: death by hunger (as slow shutdowns take shape) or death by disease as this insurgent pathogen indiscriminately sweeps across continents.
There is considerable uncertainty about what the economic landscape will look like when we emerge from this lockdown. Under the assumption that the pandemic and required containment peaks in the second quarter for most countries in the world and recedes in the second half of this year, the April World Economic Outlook projects global growth in 2020 to fall to -3 percent.
This is a downgrade of 6.3 percentage points from January 2020; a major revision over a very short period. This makes the Great Lockdown the worst recession since the Great Depression and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.
Assuming the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and that policy actions taken around the world are effective in preventing widespread firm bankruptcies, extended job losses, and system-wide financial strains, global growth in 2021 is projected to rebound to 5.8 percent.
This recovery in 2021 is only partial as the level of economic activity is projected to remain below the level we had projected for 2021, before the virus hit. The cumulative loss to global GDP over 2020 and 2021 from the pandemic crisis could be around 9 trillion dollars, greater than the economies of Japan and Germany, combined.
What is hitting us is enormous! It is the mother of all wars!
The Government of Zimbabwe must pursue a path that saves lives and protects livelihoods, preventing our economy from collapsing and serving our people during this trying moment. On top of borrowing from global experience and the best scientific evidence, the Government should craft a uniquely Zimbabwean response that is customized and tailored to the circumstances, competencies and capabilities of our great nation.
The citizens must be clear and in the know on what will happen after the 21-day lockdown period including the end result and what they are expected to do or not do.
The following are immediate;
Three broad areas for greater clarity:
A) Combating the pandemic
B) Measures to cushion families and citizens from the effects of the lockdown.
C) Planning Ahead for the reopening of the Economy with particular emphasis on preventing business closures, company bankruptcy and loss of jobs and re-empowering the informal sectors.
A) COMBATTING THE PANDEMIC
1. Cushioning of exposed citizens and communicate a clear strategy behind the lockdown and elaborate measures to contain the virus
2. Involving all citizens, labour, academics, church, political players & private sector in planning and implementation – a United Team Zimbabwe approach.
3. Increasing testing – roll out nationwide testing.
Everyday testing, situation reporting and accurate figures – better reporting is key in assuring the nation. The key government task is to detect, test, track, isolate, contain and treat. There is need for transparent testing so that the nation has accurate official figures and no parallel structures for big wigs.
Urgent need to pronounce mass testing mechanism and centres accessible to many from their neighbourhoods like polyclinics and have national geometric to understand which neighbourhoods have been greatly affected and are likely to suffer from the domino effect.
4. Government must develop information tool kit for the citizens with a view to create awareness on the progress made towards containing the virus. This information tool kit must be extensively disseminated through various media channels/platforms;
The information tool kit must provide specific details such as number of people tested per day, accurate statistical figures on the outcomes of the tests with hope that this information can provide evidence to show how the country is coping with the disease and possible indication of how the lockdown will last as opposed to be reactive. This is important how especially when the WHO is calling on countries not to rush to open the economy.
B) Measures to cushion families and citizens from the effects of the lockdown.
5. Cushioning citizens from economic distress and speed up roll out of humanitarian support is vital. We must put in place social protection nets.
6. We need a clear statement on who must benefit and who cannot so that all that requires to benefit and get food and monetary assistance without politicizing humanitarian support and food.
7. Those who are tested and confirmed positive must get a form of financial support for a month while they fight and the deceased family a government relief fund for their beneficiaries.
Indeed, it is now time that the surplus that Government has made from the 2% levy be used to cushion all workers during these hard times.
8. We suggest a new and robust method in the provision of water, food, particularly mealie meal in the townships and countryside.
9. On our part we have already instructed local authorities to do everything in their power to avail water. We call upon central government to provide the necessary resources forex to realize this important basic necessity.
10. We suggest government subsidize and reduce the price of fuel and electricity. We must reduce internet tariff/ price of data during this period of fighting the pandemic.
11. Government must create a new model for the informal sector especially fruit and vegetable markets to decongest and decentralize. Perhaps this is a perfect chance for new models of distributing our produce to the communities to be evolved.
12. In our context where we have over 5.7 million people in the informal sector, it is important to be elaborate in support mechanisms.
13. Providing radio & television lessons dedicated channel for education. Online methods are also vital.
14. We urge the full observance of Human Rights, fundamental freedoms, security and dignity of all citizens during the enforcement of measures to fight the pandemic.
15. Allow me to salute all workers, including doctors and nurses, our security services, on the frontline for the excellent call of duty under very difficult circumstances. In this context, providing Personal Protective equipment for nurses, doctors, janitors, administrative support staff, police, security services and other state employees at the frontline is so fundamental.
16. Risk allowance and tax exemption for all health professionals, security servicemen and government workers on duty at the frontline. Government must provide specialized support to the elderly including providing sanitizers and masks for all.
We urge transparency and accountability in the handling of Covid-19 issues by government.
These are examples of countries who have already done that:
1. Guinea has effected
– No payment of rents by workers and citizens in general up to December 2020.<>br
– Government has pledged to cover electricity and water for 3months.
– Free public transport for 3 months.
– Government is covering all water bills for 3 months.<>br
– Some workers were exempted from paying tax for 3 months.
– Door to door food deliveries for disadvantages groups.
– Provision of free water and electricity.
– Provision of free hospital access.
– Government has put aside US$168 million to assist business to pay workers’ salaries to avoid layoffs.
– No payment of rent until further notice; and
– Distribution of food to vulnerable groups.
As such, if other African governments are able to come up with plans that are sustainable and able to cover all workers; why are we not able as Zimbabwe to do the same?
C) Planning Ahead for the reopening of the Economy
A clear strategy on how the economy will be rescued and be made to come back to life, how people will return to work, how children will go back to school. A back to normal life roadmap – a reconstruction and recovery program.
Creation of an enabling environment aimed at reducing the pain coming with Coronavirus and general economic decay which was at its peak even before Coronavirus. The following should be policy measures:
(a) Full dollarisation and removal of forex retention to aid growth in exporting companies.
(b) Removal of 2% tax to reduce tax burden to companies and give room for cash flow recovery.
(c) Removal of excessive tax heads, for example in the tourism sector there are 22 tax heads while mining has 15 tax heads some of which are unnecessary…this will give room for revenue recovery.
(d) Tax incentives such as corporate tax waiver for companies supporting local production and import substitution.
(e) Fiscal stimulus package which is in excess of US$5 billion which will form the rescue package since most companies will close.
This is the genesis of the 4th industrial revolution, lifestyles and work styles will change and we must embrace it.
We face a national crisis of monumental proportions. A national challenge requires a national response. Considering the diverse skills and multiple capacities we have in our organization, we are ready to assist. We don’t want politicization of the pandemic. We will put politics aside and assist the government to craft those measures. The diverse skills and expertise in our organization can be of tremendous assistance to the nation at this critical time.
This is so particularly if regard be had to the experience in government, having former Ministers, our assistance will come in handy. This is no time for politics. Life is precious. We must preserve it.
TOGETHER we must defeat COVID 19. The future is bright.
Remember to wash your hands, keep good hygiene, maintain social distance and spread the message.
Remember to pray for our country and indeed the entire world.
God bless you,
God bless Zimbabwe,
God bless AFRICA.