When Patrick Chinamasa marks the start of his second stint as Zimbabwe’s finance minister by presenting the budget on Thursday, investors will be looking for policy changes in addition to fiscal plans in the post-Robert Mugabe era.
While the government needs to rein in runaway spending, end cash shortages and recapitalize banks, signals that it plans to revise or repeal contentious policies such as forcing companies to transfer 51 percent stakes to black Zimbabweans could be a game-changer. It could lure back investors and smooth engagement with lenders like the International Monetary Fundand the World Bank.
Chinamasa, a lawyer, was reappointed last week by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, less than two months after former leader Mugabe moved him to another portfolio. Mugabe resigned two weeks ago after an army-led coup ended his 37-year rule. During his tenure, agricultural output collapsed due to forced repossessions of commercially productive, mainly white-owned farmland, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency in 2009 due to hyperinflation and the economy has halved in size since 2000.
A half-hearted attempt at solving expropriation, taming inflation and curbing the country’s massive import bills would be a continuation of Mugabe’s “insular budgetary policies,” said Charles Laurie, head of country risk at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft. There will be “intense scrutiny” of Chinamasa’s plans by investors who expect “business-friendly budgetary policy,” though the focus would mostly be on the empowerment law.
“Repealing or gutting the law will be an essential step in signaling to foreign businesses that Zimbabwe is serious about fostering a viable business environment,” Laurie said. “It’s nearly impossible to imagine a revival of Western investor appetite should this politically motivated law remain on the books.”
Chinamasa has led efforts to revive the struggling economy and tap fresh credit. While Zimbabwe has paid $110 million of arrears to the IMF, it’s still saddled with $1.7 billion arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank and external debt exceeds 70 percent of gross domestic product.
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