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Zimbabwe Announces Economic Revival Plan - 2003-03-05

Zimbabwe has announced its long-awaited National Economic Revival Program, which it hopes will promote economic growth. But some experts say the plan fails to address some of the key issues facing the country.

The document, presented late Tuesday, acknowledges problems with the controversial land reform program, as well as shortages of fuel and foreign exchange. It lays out a plan that includes easing restrictions on food and fuel imports, and a partial devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar to encourage exports.

Economist Moses Tekere says it is good that government is acknowledging the worst economic crisis facing the country since independence 22 years ago. But he also says the program falls short of providing the necessary answers.

Mr. Tekere says the plan devalues the Zimbabwe dollar only for some export calculations, a move he calls "a piecemeal solution."

He also says the report does not specify targets or programs to stimulate economic growth and employment, and to control the government's budget deficit and inflation, which now stands at more than 200 percent.

In addition, Mr. Tekere says the report does not address the political turmoil facing Zimbabwe. The opposition and independent groups have accused the government of President Robert Mugabe of conducting a campaign of intimidation designed to keep him in power.

Economist Moses Tekere says that is the fundamental problem stifling economic growth and keeping international donors and investors away.

University of Zimbabwe economics lecturer Tony Hawkins also dismissed the report as "too vague and general to be meaningful." He said the problem facing Zimbabwe is political and social, and until confidence is restored, there won't be any investment.

In addition, referring to the land reform exercise which saw whites losing their farms for the ressetlement of landless blacks, Mr. Hawkins said no one is going to want to invest in Zimbabwe as long as there is no respect for property rights.

The government's National Economic Revival Program is contained in a document which was presented to the media by Minister of Finance Herbert Murerwa late Tuesday. The minister said the program is the result of extensive negotiations among government officials and business and labor leaders.

The document acknowledges that the country is facing severe socio-economic challenges. It says that the country's exports have declined by 35 percent over the past four years, resulting in a shortage of foreign currency for the importation of essentials such as fuel and wheat.

In a major policy change, the document announces measures to allow the duty free import of critical food items, such as maize and wheat, by licensed companies.

The Zimbabwean government had previously drawn a lot of criticism for maintaining a monopoly on grain imports. Although the quantities the private sector will be allowed to import are still unknown, analysts have welcomed the move as a step in the right direction.