PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday skirted tackling the contentious bond notes, civil servants’ bonuses and the current economic and political crisis when he presented a largely disappointing 2016 State of the Nation Address (Sona) in Parliament.
by VENERANDA LANGA
Mugabe had been expected to touch on the most topical issues, but instead in his 31-minute presentation, he focussed on peripheral matters, in one of his most forgettable speeches.
Instead of addressing the economy and the political issues that have dominated public discourse, Mugabe spoke about an anticipated boom in the tourism and agricultural sectors and successes scored in the implementation of government’s forgotten ZimAsset.
The veteran politician praised Zimbabweans for their resilience in the face of the harsh economic environment, which ironically has been blamed on his government’s woeful policies.
Mugabe’s Sona touched on Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016, empowerment of women, command agriculture, tourism, and others.
There was no mention of the current cash crisis, which has worsened following the introduction of bond notes, as well as payment of civil servants’ salaries and bonuses, which have caused sleepless nights for Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, as government’s coffers are skint.
Mugabe’s speech was often drowned by noise from opposition benches, where MDC-T legislators chided some ministers, who were dozing through his speech, although Zanu PF MPs frequently and predictably applauded.
Mabvuku-Tafara MP James Maridadi (MDC-T) brought a lighter moment when he “congratulated” State Security minister Kembo Mohadi for the recent prophecy he received from Malawian preacher, Shepherd Bushiri that he would soon be “crowned” and promoted.
But Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda immediately asked Maridadi to withdraw the statement.
Musikavanhu legislator, Prosper Mutseyami had the House in stitches when he advised Mugabe to ensure that he had the correct speech.
“Double-check, President, these are thugs, they will give you a wrong speech,” he quipped.
Mugabe spoke of rationalising the the civil service, saying this would enhance service delivery.
“The Public Service Commission is currently implementing a number of structural reforms including the abolition of redundant and vacant non-critical posts,” he said.
“It is also in the process of rationalising the duplications and overlaps of functions between and among some line ministries, and is carrying out job re-engineering, job enrichment and multi-skilling.
“The resultant effect would be leaner and flatter structures that are economic and would, thus, enhance effective and quality service delivery.”
Chinamasa has on several times tried to address staff rationalisation and the cutting of allowances, but has been shot down either by Mugabe or other ministers, making the President’s utterances out of sync with his previous pronouncements.
Mugabe said the government also managed to create 69 648 stands for the national housing delivery programme, adding they were working on providing more land to disadvantaged groups such as youths and women.
The President said the government was concerned about the high levels of gender-based violence, particularly against women and girls, adding churches and community leaders should take a leading role in shaping an appropriate social fabric and moral behaviour in society.
“Tourism continues to experience tremendous growth and development. During the first half of 2016, Zimbabwe recorded 902 435 tourist arrivals from Asia and America. By year end, it is forecast that Zimbabwe will record 2,5 million tourist arrivals,” he said.
The Zanu PF leader said the anticipated growth in the tourism sector was spawned by what he termed a peaceful environment obtaining in the country.
He also spoke on the need to accelerate policy reforms including declaring zero tolerance to corruption, revitalising agriculture, infrastructure development, unlocking potential of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and fostering financial sector stability in order to rejuvenate the economy and contribute to poverty reduction.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general, Japhet Moyo, described Mugabe’s speech as shallow and devoid of substance.
“We are not surprised that the President did not address the real issues. Real issues include creation of employment, that people are being forced to use bond notes and that they can’t access their money from banks. He was silent on the future of workers, on the critical issue of whether we will have jobs in 2017,” he said.
Moyo said Mugabe’s silence on civil servants’ bonuses was telling of an arrogant government and leadership, which chooses to ignore real issues.
“They know the real issues, but we are not surprised that they chose to ignore all the things that are crucial. It shows arrogance and we are not surprised because this is what they have always done,” he said.
Opposition MPs, too, had no kind words for Mugabe, although Zanu PF MPs, as usual, were full of praise for the 92-year-old, describing his speech as stimulating.
“There was clear absence of leadership in his speech with nothing said to address policy inconsistencies in government,” Kuwadzana East MP, Nelson Chamisa (MDC-T) said.
Hatfield MP Tapiwa Mashakada (MDC-T) said Mugabe parroted things that he said as far back as five years ago, such as support to SMEs.
Binga North MP, Prince Dubeko Sibanda (MDC-T) said Mugabe’s speech lacked substance.
Musikavanhu MP, Prosper Mutseyami (MDC-T) said he was more worried about the state of Mugabe’s health than his speech on the state of the nation.
But Highfield West MP, Psychology Maziwisa (Zanu PF) blasted the opposition for heckling and criticising Mugabe while praising the 92-year-old’s speech.
Epworth MP, Zaleria Makari (Zanu PF) praised Mugabe for announcing that the Women’s Micro Finance Bank would be capitalised, saying it showed he was serious about women empowerment.