People should not call for democracy and at the same time expect the government to put some controls as this seems contradictory . This was the message delivered to journalists by Minister of State for Finance Tichaendepi Masaya, when he addressed journalists recently.
He said the government has been under attack for failing to reduce its expenditure yet at the same time people are saying the government should create the right atmosphere for blacks, for example, to enter into business and should not lift subsidies on basic commodities because people can no longer afford them.
He said the problem probably lay with journalists because they tended to concentrate on reporting consumer issues, like high prices without looking at why these prices were going up. This was probably because they too were consumers, but was this the right thing to do?
“You can’t do things so that they match the pockets of the poor. That is not the way things work. You cannot call for democracy on one hand and on the other ask the government to compel some sectors to do certain things,” he said.
Masaya said there was going to be greater deregulation in 1993 because what the country wanted to establish was competition. ESAP was all about deregulation and that was what the government was going to do except for things like law and Order because people have to follow the laws of the country. He was quite aware of the effects of ESAP, but there had also been some benefits.
Asked what the government was doing to help indigenous people to become entrepreneurs as they did not have the necessary starting capital, Masaya said they should approach financial institutions because if their projects were viable they would be given assistance.
“You should not expect the government to come and chip in. If you are not ready and therefore do not have the money then wait,” he said.
The government, he said, should not always be at the forefront. Private companies should take some initiative. Suggesting that the government should set up the necessary infrastructure before the private took over was like suggesting that the government should do it because it was used to making losses.
“Government has to be sensitive about the amount of money it is spending. We need to know what we spend it on. After all it is you, the same people, who will come back to us to complain about high government expenditure,” he said.
On why there was little investment at the moment, Masaya said the problem was probably not with the companies but with the system. There were certain laws which were anti-investment. One such detrimental law, he said, was that regarding pension funds which stipulates that 55 percent of all monies from pension funds should be reserved for the government expenditure.
He said critics should bare in mind the increasing the cost of living. Cars which the government bought 10 years ago for about $5 000 are now more than 10 times that price, the same applied to airfares for travel and other expenses.
Masaya told the journalists that they had an important role to play because they should not just highlight problems people were facing but they should also provide alternatives or solutions which the government could then discuss.
Journalists, he said, should also point out specific pieces or sections of legislation that were hampering progress in the country. While deregulation was certainly coming, he said, journalists could also help speed this up by giving examples of areas that needed to be immediately deregulated.
He also said while some of the things that were being introduced under the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme seemed harsh on the people they were aimed at rectifying the situation. He said fees in the urban areas, for example, had been introduced because of the influx of people from the rural areas.
“We are saying that you can have as many children as you want but if you want to have them at Parirenyatwa you should pay the $500 maternity fee. If you cannot afford it there is Nyanga Hospital where you can get free service. The same applies to education. Most of the schools in the urban areas were built with taxpayers’ money. Those in the rural areas were built by the parents. Now we are saying those in urban areas should pay because they did not build those schools. Those in the rural areas who built their own schools should not pay. If you cannot afford the fees in the urban areas you should send your children to the rural areas.”
Masaya said this was a very pragmatic approach to the whole problem because the system could not cope with the influx of people into urban areas. The population of Harare, for example, had increased by 74 percent in the past 10 years. Was it therefore surprising that the government could not cope with the demand for housing and other facilities?