Fears of a return to the hyperinflation era that preceded the introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009 were heightened in the past fortnight when the value of bond notes tumbled on the parallel market and prices of basic commodities shot through the roof.
Panic-buying gripped Harare last weekend and on his return from the United Nations General Assembly, President Robert Mugabe complained that some of his lieutenants were behind the collapse of the economy.
The government also blamed social media for the chaos.
Reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) spoke to Industry minister Mike Bimha (MB) who insisted the government was still in control of the situation, claiming the economy was on the rebound. Below is the full interview.
BM: Minister, there appears to be an economic meltdown; prices are going up and fuel shortages have crept back, what do you attribute this to?
MB: I wouldn’t agree that there is an economic meltdown. there are all economic indicators to convince us that our economy is actually recovering in terms of mining, agriculture, manufacturing as well as tourism. They are all indications that our economy is on the recovery path and we just have to apply some more pressure for us to be able to turn around.
What happened recently is something attributed to the work of enemies who would want to see the economy go down by coming up with unsubstantiated information to the effect that prices will go up, that there is no foreign currency, that there will be shortages.
BM: Is there foreign currency in the country? If so, where is it?
MB: There have always been challenges with foreign currency. It is not enough, but there are measures to make sure that it is enough.
BM: The foreign currency shortages are forcing people to buy money at a premium to sustain their businesses. Are we not likely to see empty shelves again as shop owners fail to restock due to the clampdown against those dealing in foreign currency?
MB: No, it’s not that they will sustain their businesses by buying money.
There has been this creeping thing of profiteering by selling money, which shouldn’t be the case. Money should be used as a mode of exchange, not for one to store value and it’s unfortunate that it has been happening.
BM: Why would people just start selling money in an economy which you say is on the rebound?
MB: Well, there are so many issues. whenever you have a currency which is not your own, there will be loopholes where people will profiteer.
At the end of the day, Zimbabwe will have to have its own currency and that will ease some of the problems that we are facing.
BM: You are on record saying you are going to solve these problems in two days, is that possible?
MB: Even in less than two days we will solve these problems.
BM: How are you going to achieve this?
MB: You see, the problem is these issues are not as real as they are put, they are imagined, so they tend to look difficult but it is nothing really. The foreign currency is there, support for business policies is there, so there is really no need to panic.
BM: Are there any government ministers working against the system or against President Robert Mugabe, because we just heard the president say there are “Judas Iscariots” in his government?
MB: I am not the one who said that.
BM: You are in that government and you clapped hands as he spoke, you must know something.
MB: I wouldn’t know. I don’t know what he meant, but the issue is that there is definitely people who are working against government policies.
BM: Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa made a prediction that the economy is going to grow by 3%. Do you agree with that prediction?
MB: Very much so.
BM: What contribution will your ministry have in that supposed growth.
MB: We will support manufacturing. we are seeing manufacturing growing, we are seeing new companies coming and that will boost manufacturing so that we export and we earn the much-needed foreign currency.
BM: You spoke about Zimbabwe getting its own currency, how soon can we see that happening?
MB: As soon as the conditions are conducive, we will have the local currency, but I cannot indicate the timing.
BM: Putting to test your statement on an economic turnaround, people have lost jobs, companies can’t pay salaries, government struggles to offer services, how do you call this a turnaround?
MB: What do you mean?
BM: Zimbabweans are losing jobs every day and those who are still employed go for months without salaries. Which part of the country is experiencing a turnaround?
MB: Turnaround is not just a question of having salaries all the time, even in good times you don’t have salaries all the time.
The economy has ups and downs, when you have ups things have to change, when you are on a downward trend, things have to change, these are the vicissitudes of every economy.
There are ups and downs at any point in time. But at the end of the day when we look at the indicators, some of the multilateral institutions are on the rebound.
BM: You met with businesspeople recently. What were some of their concerns that you addressed?
MB: Their concerns were also our concerns; that there are people using social media for purposes of inflicting disharmony within the community, so they are equally concerned about what is happening because they know the implications.
If there are any problems, the private sector is free to come and see us; but they did testify that there was no reason for people to panic, so they are equally concerned that there are these people passing unsubstantiated information.
This can only lead us to believe that there are those people who are bent on destroying our economy.
BM: There are people who are selling money openly at Harare’s Roadport. Why is the government not taking action?
MB: The Ministry of Finance is taking measures to stop that rot.
BM: These dealers have been there for years, why did it take the Finance minister this long to deal with the problem?
MB: The issue is that our economy is run on a multi-currency system and even at the time it was introduced, who would have thought that there would be a rush for the US dollar and not a rush for the rand, for example?
These are things that are not foreseen but the point is that it was a right decision for government to come up with a multi-currency system, but unfortunately, we all preferred the US dollar as opposed to the other currencies.
BM: You spoke about social media causing panic, why now when the multi-currency system started in 2009?
MB: Social media is responsible by way of messages — spreading information about shortages, price hikes, about a number of things — which were not substantiated. That’s where the social media is coming in.
But social media is just a form of communication, there are people behind that social media who are to blame.
We are not blaming social media but the people using it.
BM: What is your assurance to the people of Zimbabwe?
MB: To Zimbabweans I say, let’s work together. We are actually turning around the economy but it needs all of us to put our heads together, to talk to each other, to engage with each other and together we will make Zimbabwe great again.