Finance Minister sat down to an interview with Trevor Ncube who is a member of the Presidential Advisory Council to give some insights on his work, character and to answer some questions from the audience members who were available for the recording of the interview. Let’s look at some of the key highlights from the interview and see what insights could be gained from this publicized interview.
The interview started with The minister accepting that his job was much more a political job than a finance job and this is something he did not know beforehand. He did state that it was lucky that the contents of the ZANU PF Manifesto happened to match the contents of his transitional stabilization programme. On the 2% tax, the Intermediated Money Transfer tax, the minister explained the rationale by saying that they had to tax transactions as the economy moved towards being informal and regular tax channels were simply not providing the revenue with an already spendthrift government required. When asked how the government was performing on reducing expenditure he spoke of monitoring travel expenditure by the government. This came at a time when there is talk of another jet being hired for a local flight and we have a whole delegation of ministers that have travelled to Liverpool for the netball World Cup where the Zimbabwe Gems are playing as debutants. The latter is quite laughable as the Gems had to go on a fundraising drive but the government suddenly had the money to afford travel and allowances for their officials.
Perhaps the most important question he was asked was how the surplus helped the person on the street. He responded with a bit of mumbling before stating that the surplus is being used for rural and urban feeding schemes for the vulnerable, a cash transfer program, subsidized transportation through ZUPCO and importation of grain to meet the nation’s shortfall. Questions then shifted over to the highly controversial manner in which Statutory Instrument 142 of 2019 was introduced. The minister reiterated that they could not announce in advance because they wanted to get rid of speculators and any forewarning would have prepared them.
Focus then shifted to the interbank market which he admitted was not yet an open market as we have banks acting in their own spaces and what we needed was a centralized system of some sort. Further pressed on the interbank market he said they do have a plan to bring the market to normal but it was not wise to announce it in an interview. He indicated that the desire of the government is to go back to normal.
When posed the question of how he would protect the currency value the minister spoke in very broad and nondescript terms that we have become accustomed to from him mentioning the factors that determine the currency strength as the fiscal position (government spending), the current account position (trade deficit) and the money supply growth. The minister also highlighted the trust deficit with the government over money people have in foreign currency accounts. Essentially account holders are unable to transact or withdraw (at the discretion of their banks) and this ultimately renders the money inaccessible. In reply to a follow-up question on the black market the minister said they knew who the responsible parties were but had to move carefully due to the standard of proof required to arrest them.
The bulk of the interview was spent reiterating known positions such as the sale arrangements for parastatals and the energy challenges the country faces. In the talk on partial privatization, the minister mentioned that the government intended to sell Sandawana Emerald mine without the knowledge that it contained gold deposits. This speaks to the overall position of the government on assets as highlighted in the Auditor Generals report. Whether it is aeroplanes that cannot be accounted for or land paid for that cannot be found. The corporate governance position is in total disarray.
Finally, when asked if he would change anything he pointed to the communications as one thing he would change. Admitting that their communication left a lot to be desired. The minister does communicate frequently and effectively and perhaps it is what is communicated rather than how it’s communicated that he should worry about.
In answering questions from the invited audience the minister gave us confirmation that the supplementary budget will be rolled out as planned. He also answered a question on fuel price by indicating that while a revision of the price was necessary they were currently seized with containing the exchange rate. He also made a brief mention of the fuel monitoring system at all service stations soon.
The minister has multiple platforms to speak including his twitter account and a column in the Herald. The Hope would’ve been that he would speak more openly on this platform but given that it was with a presidential advisory council member we would not have expected him to get the questions that Zimbabweans are really asking.