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Zimbabwe Opposition Proposes Economic Recovery Plan - 2004-02-02

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change has published an economic recovery program it says it will implement if it comes to power. The program has been largely praised by economists, but criticized by the government.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says the first step in his Zimbabwe recovery program would be to remove restrictions on foreign exchange in an effort to stabilize the economy.

He also wants an audit of land ownership in an effort to target resources where they are needed to increase agricultural output. But Mr. Tsvangirai made it clear that Zimbabwe's farming system would never return to what it was before most of the country's 45-hundred white farmers were expelled from most of the best farm land, in the government's controversial land reform program.

The reforms left much of Zimbabwe's farmland uncultivated, because the new farm owners lacked both the skills and financial resources to carry on the businesses.

Mr. Tsvangirai says any economic improvement program will take time because Zimbabwe's economy is so seriously damaged there can be no quick fix. He told supporters, diplomats and industrialists late last week that Zimbabweans are now as poor as they were in 1970.

The opposition program is called RESTART, an acronym for Reconstruction, Stabilization, Recovery and Transformation.

It would invest heavily in health and education, which have deteriorated significantly over the last few years, and would seek Zimbabwe's return to good standing in the international community.

Writer, business consultant and retired University of Zimbabwe Economics Professor Tony Hawkings says the opposition's program would be approved by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which would ensure balance of payment support.

He said the program would also resonate with the donor community because it places heavy emphasis on good government, anti-corruption measures and an independent central bank, which is now controlled by the ruling Zanu P-F party.

Development analyst and political commentator Brian Raftopoulos called the plan brave and well-considered.

The state-controlled media has poured scorn on the opposition's economic recovery plan. It says there is no chance it will be implemented because the opposition has no hope of coming to power.

The state media did not analyze the thrust of the economic aspects of the program.

Zimbabwe's economy is at its lowest level in decades, with more than 600-percent inflation, growing unemployment and increased levels of hunger, particularly in urban areas where few people receive foreign food aid.