There is nothing our fractious government loves more than well-named national strategy documents. Their latest production in this department is called The National Development Strategy or more fondly NDS1. (Will there be an NDS2?).
It replaces the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) which ran for two years from 2018 to 2020. The TSP itself was the successor to the much more famous ZimAsset five year plan launched back in 2013 and we all know how that ended.
The beauty of five-year plans
For our government five year plans like ZimAsset and NDS1 are like a hymn to a disharmonious choir. All members can sing forth from the same page giving an illusion of purpose, progress and unity. Officials could even claim that their latest bathroom visit was all part of the ZimAsset agenda and no one would bat an eyelid.
What NSD1 is all about?
Part of the reason why government officials get away with such ridiculous pronouncements is that few bother to read these high sounding national plans. ZimAsset was 129 pages long, TSP had 388 pages and NDS1 has a whopping 343 pages. For most, the prosaic barrenness is too much to bear.
By the way it’s called NDS1 not NSD1. Bet you didn’t even notice that change. It’s a struggle I know so for you we have a summary:
- Grow the economy at an average of 5% for the next five years. That won’t happen in 2021 so yeah thank you Covid. In fact, we have a premade list of excuses that we can fall back to should we fail to meet even these most modest of goals. Drought, floods, locusts, climate change, G40 saboteurs, the devil, economic demons and if all that fails sanctions. We should be thankful to the obstinate West for giving us this perennial excuse.
- Maintain fiscal deficits averaging not more than 3% of GDP. We promise not to bully our malleable central bank governors into printing money.
- Lower inflation to within the SADC inflation target range of 3% to 7% by 2025. Are we referring to the blended inflation rate here? Last time inflation figures said something we didn’t want we banned them and then later changed the formula. So we can always do this and achieve these magical rates
- Increase forex reserves to at least six months’ import cover by 2025.
- A market-determined exchange rate regime. Currently, we use the Dutch auction system which favours stability by short-changing sellers. The resulting average rate makes no financial sense.
- Maintain public and publicly guaranteed external and domestic debt to GDP at below 70% of GDP. And suddenly give up on all those opaque domestic and foreign deals?
- Maintain a current account balance of not more than -3% of GDP. Most people probably won’t even know what we mean by this so who cares?
- Create at least 760,000 formal jobs over the five-year NDS1 period. We were promised 2 million so they can just throw any number here.
- Improve infrastructure development in energy, water, sanitation, roads and housing. We will commission Faires to use their magic wands to achieve this wonderful feat. Plenty of tenders to go around too.
- Accelerate value addition and beneficiation in agriculture and mining. The target is to increase value-added productions from 9% of exports to 20%. Were we supposed to be cutting and polishing diamonds by now? We can always blame the First Republic for failing to achieve that one. We weren’t part of it at all.
To its benefit, NDS1 actually bothers to go into detail about how it intends to achieve some of its outcomes. Which is more than we can say of previous documents like ZimAsset which set out lofty goals without really bothering to go into specifics of how this could be achieved. In that regard, NDS1 is a symphony made by masterful composers.
A country of educated fools
If you are one of those people who read the latest turn around blueprint from the government and think that’s exactly what our country needs to bounce bank, you are an educated fool. Do not feel bad or insulted, our country is full of them educated fools. You are in good company. It’s just that it would be a mistake to judge NDS1 based on its contents and the quality of its propositions – that’s precisely what an educated fool like you would do.
Producing high quality and impressive-sounding plans and strategies has never been this country’s problem. Take for example the ZimAsset and the TPS. They were no doubt the work of geniuses who knew what there were doing.
Sadly aside from both plans being turned into jingles and catchphrases by ministers and government officials for years, we have little to show for it. That’s because having a good plan doesn’t always guarantee success. To succeed you need more than a good plan, you need the will to succeed.
Unfortunately despite what our national and local government officials will tell you, look at their actions and you can only reach one conclusion: they have no desire to succeed at all. Nowhere is that fact more apparent than at parastatals such as ZESA, ZINARA, ZISCO, NRZ and many others. You can also consider the state of our urban and rural councils.
For years and even decades, these entities have been cesspools of corruption and incompetence. Basic acts of looting by employees that can be easily thwarted by implementing elementary corporate governance principles continue unhindered. If low-level employees can pilfer thousands of dollars from ZINARA how much damage can high-level employees inflict?
I could go on listing the misdeeds at these decrepit institutions and how hundreds of millions and possibly billions have been lost but anybody can easily Google these. To me, parastatals are a barometer or microcosms of the entire economy, that indicates how much a government is willing to do to achieve success.
These entities fall directly under the purview of the government. They could change things there with a snap of the finger and yet they haven’t. These entities cannot even be bothered to produce audited financial statements on time in violation of the law. They cannot even revive ZISCO or turn around things at NRZ and now they want to do it on a national scale?
The country of blueprints and little action
As already said NDS1 is a beautiful work of art. It’s contents are all so beguiling like the enticing call of a mermaid. Even those who were scarred by 2008 and should know better cannot help but sing it praises. Why? It’s everything we have ever wanted. Everything we have ever needed, condensed into words right there in front of us.
It’s a mistake to judge the document based on its contents. What’s in there really doesn’t matter. Having the best recipe book doesn’t automatically make one a great cook. Knowing the formula doesn’t mean you are a great mathematician. It’s but one piece of a dizzying puzzle. It takes unwavering will, passion, skill and energy to achieve anything of note.
As you go through the document you cannot help but imagine what would happen if somehow it all came true. The smooth tarred roads running like capillaries to every corner of the nation. Meat in our bellies as we sit in our homes, homes that we actually own. Your money earning interest in a bank. Large verdant fields filled with a promising bountiful harvest. Well, paying jobs for everyone. Hospitals that can actually receive your sick and make them better.
You can almost touch it can’t you? Sadly as the prophet said to the soldier, “You will see it with your own eyes but you won’t be able to eat any of it.” It’s all an insubstantial pageant that will probably never exist outside the realms of our imagination.
It’s the government’s greatest show yet. The stuff that dreams are made of. A masque for their enchanted audience.
You can read or download NDS1 using the link below: