The triumphant arrogance and cocky bravado with which some of us embarked our freshly-painted Titanic is no match to the humbling despair and frightened panic that accompanies the early turbulence of our, suddenly uncertain, suddenly painful journey… the Dawn of Reality! By means "pfair" or "pfoul" this week, the bank accounts, the shelves and the fuel tanks are empty and the church benches are packed brimful with citizens of all social and political persuasion swapping their political scarfs for Bibles and inviting God to abandon his exigent missions in wars, famines and tsunamis the world over to come and literally run their government for them. We don't know wherefore, but there is no doubt the sand is shifting from under our feet. Whither Zimbabwe?
The perennial mismatch between punitive taxation, the call for sacrifice and tightened belts and ever increased government inflows and yet ever declining living conditions, short and brutish lives for citizens, with zero evidence at any meaningful self-restraint, prudent expenditure or any punitive stance against fat-collar corruption by government itself has come back to haunt policy. A good friend suggests to me that Mthuli Ncube has invited to his breakfast table ingredients from both the chicken and the pig. But while the chicken contributes its two eggs, the pig must contribute the bacon! Do the math.
Except that fear grips us all and none can say with any measure of certainty where we are headed, it is everyone's hope, less from evidence and more from sheer faith, that Finance minister Ncube and his boss have not lost their marbles and know just how to salvage what's left of Titanic Zimbabwe.
If my own hopeful hunch that we are about to walk through a cauldron of fire , the national economic stabilisation furnace that is the inevitable pathway to enduring sanity and restoration, what then must be some key hallmarks and steps to underpin Mthuli's declared war?
The evident appetite for economic results and the related desire to park the past can only be sustained on the back of a publicly owned, unambiguous national intervention programme, supported by a commonly understood implementation framework and effective buy-in. Once shared and succinctly articulated by all levels of leadership, the readiness of the vision and new trajectory to deliver will require a Jonathan-media-blitz and strategy champions to publicise, popularise and give life to a new economic discourse in the public domain. Mixed signalling in policy will only drain public confidence. An accurate assessment of capacity gaps and the capacity of Ncube's programme to marshal synergies and sustained partnerships and requisite internal and external resources cannot be underestimated. Ncube's readiness will also show in the extent to which the culture and processes are overhauled. New results will never be achieved by old ways. The requisite architecture, tools, techniques, retraining and wherewithal must be evidence.
Public service and all previous blueprints have long been dispensed in a vague results vacuum. The first measure of effectiveness of Ncube's economic stabilisation programme must be its articulation of and commitment to agreed and measurable results and clear sanctions for deviance. The ultimate national vision must calibrate into a quantifiable expression of goals and outcomes at the immediate, intermediate and long-term range. It will be difficult, in the absence of an overarching framework of economic and development results, to commit and pin down the diverse national energies to the achievement of collective purpose. The requisite politics to support consensus building can neither be fast-tracked, commandeered nor wished away. MDC local authorities and little-convinced civil servants and urban centres have to somehow willingly subscribe to the economic outcomes of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government and commit to Ncube's thinking if the programme's intended outcomes are ever to see the light of day.
The absence of performance measurement and a culture of permanent, guaranteed employment has always been sadly the "attractive" feature of public service… a culture in which the important thing is to measure and count activities completed and meaningless performance indicators met, rather than what growth or development difference our work makes. Without a set of clear, simple and commonly understood indicators and the skill and rigour of application against which to measure the progress to economic stabilisation, Ncube's programme may remain up in the air.
Similarly, establishing realistic economic targets as pragmatic, manageable bites and road marks to Canaan will be important.
Establishing economic baselines
Everyone in the lecture rooms, church pulpits, boardrooms and in the kombis seems to know and to moan the fact that this economy is in intensive care unit. There is no apparent commitment, however, to give precise meaning to the sweeping groans and clearly articulate — where are we today — in respect of various economic factors. Informed decision-making and an accurate pitching of the new economic stabilisation policy and the quantum of resources and effort required will only benefit from establishing and making known the true baselines of the economy to enable anchoring and measurable validity and empiricism of effort. We are all sick of recklessly peddled vacuous political mantras like "There has been a great, huge, significant improvement in rural livelihoods since the beginning of the new dispensation"! Without any before and after measure, the makers of these statements are as stupid as their audiences.
Monitoring of economic results
A grand strategic and programmatic economic intervention of the proportions Ncube proposes needs to be anchored on a broadly institutionalised monitoring mechanism of results-tracking on an ongoing, rather than ad hoc basis. It is the extent to which monitoring is embedded at all stages and levels of the results chain that will secure the results for Ncube. Successful economies elsewhere have given strategic support at the highest levels to the monitoring function by instituting a distinct economic development monitoring portfolio that grafts daily with the Presidency. If continuous attention to detail and equal prominence is accorded to both implementation, monitoring and results or outcome monitoring and where monitoring is driven by strong leadership and committed management units, the probability for success will become obvious by Christmas.
Effective continuous evaluation
Technical programme pulse checks that generate ongoing and rear-view mirror information that continuously informs and improves decision-making on the basis of both lessons learnt and best practice benchmarking must be an important part of the minister's programme . Already, formative stage evaluation should be taking shape, which interrogates the philosophical grounding and rationale for Ncube's theory of change. The "Mthulinomics" brand needs to be justified, vindicated and legitimised at the very inception to secure effective buy-in. Similarly, the implementation phase must generate "real-time", dashboard information to answer the question whether we are doing the right things, the right way mid-stream.
Reporting and using findings
A robust communication strategy that continuously generates, shares and disseminates relevant economic data and filters the stabilisation discourse throughout the partners, stakeholders, ministries and society is absolutely critical. Effective and timeous results-reporting must support evidence-based decision-making.
Good luck, Prof.
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