BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube came under fire at the weekend after blowing his own trumpet following a controversial award that ranked him among Africa’s top five treasury bosses.
The award by a little known francophone magazine, Financial Afrik, baffled many critics, who queried how a minister who has been presiding over a hyperinflating economy could be included in the high-fliers’ league.
After the announcement, Ncube immediately took to Twitter, hailing the magazine for its “qualitative analysis of candidates”.
There were blowbacks by a string of experts, including ex-finance minister, Tendai Biti and leading economist, Tony Hawkins, who argued current levels of economic decay spoke louder than the award.
“I find those tweets (by Ncube) so disturbing,” said Biti, one of Zimbabwe’s most successful finance ministers who presided over the ministry during the inclusive government.
“They are pathological, sycophantic. Who blows his own trumpet? The magazine in question, from Senegal, is an innocuous little publication. More than that, it is a very skewered publication. The economy does not need a spokesperson; it speaks for itself. When the economy functions the citizen is happy, buoyant and aggressive. The average Zimbabwean is battered, bitter,” Biti added.
“Of all economic indices, there is one thing that doesn’t lie; it is the exchange rate. The exchange rate tells you whether the economy is performing well, whether the stewardship of the economy is in good hands. We have one of the worst exchange rates on the African continent,” added Biti.
“You have to have a value system. Humility is so important. You have to have ubuntu. There are those who judge people. We have newspapers that say ‘this is best minister’, let them do that. We have organisations that give awards to ministers, let them do that but you don’t speak. Now, you go pick an unknown publication and say ‘look at me’ I mean it’s really sick,” Biti told Standardbusiness.
Tony Hawkins, a leading economist and former economics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Graduate School of Management, said with the second highest annual inflation rate in the world and a string of unachieved targets, there was little that Ncube could celebrate for.
“If you look at his track record, first of all, the quantitative targets in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) were not met,” noted Hawkins.
Ncube come up with TSP when he was appointed in 2018, before it was replaced with the National Development Strategy 1 last year.
“Secondly, since he has been minister of Finance, we have had the world’s second or third highest rate of inflation. We have moved from a very low rate of inflation to a very high rate,” said Hawkins.
“Thirdly, the value of the currency when he took over was theoretically 100 US cents, that is what the Zimbabwe dollar was worth. Today, it’s worth less than one US cent. We have seen a rise in poverty, we have seen a rise in unemployment so I think the guys who decided that his policies were working either didn’t know what they were talking about or think it’s probably the truth or were making premature judgements,” Hawkins told Standardbusiness.
In the past few months, while government spin doctors have scale up a campaign claiming that the economy has been on the mend, the cost of living has rocketed, reaching $73 000 for a family of six in December 2021, from
$58 000 previously.
In contrast, firms have failed to raise wages and salaries, citing the economic crisis.
Incomes now fall way below the cost of living.
On the parallel market, the Zimbabwe dollar has plummeted from about US1:$120 in January 2021, to more than US$1:$200.
Added Biti; “In terms of poverty levels in this country, 79% of our people are living in extreme poverty. Public service has collapsed, Look at the services in health. People are dying, there are no drugs or medicines”.
In his Twitter post, Ncube said: “I am very pleased to have been voted and ranked in the top five ministers of finance in Africa in 2021 by the French publication “Financial Afrik”. This is based on a popular vote and qualitative analysis of candidates, and considered by a jury. The list of the top five Finance Ministers ranked in Financial Afrik include those of Mauritania, Benin, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and DRC. These ministers were judged to have implemented transformative economic policies with results”.