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Seeking Southern African Regional Aid, Harare Drafts Economic Plan

Zimbabwe's Ministry of Economic Development is coming up with a new strategy to rescue the economy, and hoping to wrest policy-making power back from the Joint Operations Command, a military-led committee, and various ad hoc task forces.

Ministry Permanent Secretary Judith Kateera told parliamentarians, governors and traditional chiefs Wednesday that the new five-year economic development strategy aims to reduce poverty and bring marginalized groups into the mainstream.

But opposition members and economists voiced skepticism the policy can succeed.

Finance and economic affairs spokesman Tapiwa Mashakada of the Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai said Harare is great at issuing high-sounding economic blueprints but not very good at bringing them to fruition.

Sources in the economics ministry said the Joint Operations Command, which unites the military, the Central Intelligence Organization and other security forces, opposes the plan, preferring more populist measures like the price-cutting drive launched several months ago with disastrous effects as store shelves were emptied.

But the deepening crisis and regional pressure have weakened its hand, sources said. The Southern African Development Community has asked for an economic plan so it can decide how best to help economically while promoting a political solution.

Economic Development Minister Sylvester Nguni told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the plan is currently being formulated.

Economist Eric Bloch said no turnaround is possible without taking painful measures, urging Harare to stop blaming everyone but itself for the present economic mess.

Meanwhile, an "indigenization" and empowerment bill that would allow the government to take a 51% stake in all white-owned business awaits only the signature of President Robert Mugabe to become the law of the land, despite warnings it is a mistake.

Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Minister Paul Mangwana said any white Zimbabwean who owns a business, even if it was established after independence in 1980, must prove that he or she is indigenous and was victimized by colonialism.

Critics of the legislation, tabled in June, say it has moved at a “dangerously fast pace.”

Opposition economics spokesman Mashakada told reporter Carole Gombakomba that the "indigenization" legislation will deal a fatal blow to investor confidence.

Economist John Robertson said the opposition's failure to effectively oppose the bill made it easy for the ruling party to ram it through both houses of parliament.

The ruling party wields a two-thirds majority in the lower house.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...