On 4th August 2016, the Alternative Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) Workshop, organised by the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust, in collaboration with the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) and Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) was held at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Harare.
The aim of the meeting was to create a platform bringing together civil society organisations and the private sector to reflect on the on-going Poverty Reduction Strategy Process (PRSP) undertaken by the government, in order to ensure that the voice of Zimbabwean people is appropriately listened, through the development of a parallel, broad-based and participatory platform which yearns to fill the gaps left by the mainstream interim PRSP in terms of transparency and accountability.
In order to fully re-engage with external donors and international financial institutions (IFIs), Zimbabwe is now in the process of planning a 2 years (2016-2018) Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, drafted on the basis of country-wide consultations with various stakeholders held between March and June 2016. This paper, whose development is one of the four criteria to be met in order to be considered eligible for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative assistance led by the World Bank, is expected to provide a guiding framework to engage in structural reforms aimed at reducing poverty and promoting economic growth across 5 overarching thematic areas, namely: 1) Social Services, Policies and Expenditures, 2) Agriculture Productivity, Growth and Rural Food Security and Nutrition 3) Private Sector 4) Environment and Climate Change, 5) Strengthening Governance and Institutional Capacity. The primary ambition is to address, in a more effective way, the economic challenges the country has been experienced for the past 20 years. Indeed, as some of the panellists have argued, Zimbabwe has witnessed what can be defined a “structural regression”, characterised by a steady deindustrialisation and a progressive informalisation of economy which, in 2011, reached unprecedented level encompassing the 94% of people aged above 15 and soaring to 98% with regards to young between 15 and 24. Needless to say, this informal labour has a predominantly gendered face, with the majority of street sellers being women who, facing less possibility of formal employment and bearing the costs of maintaining their children, are often the most vulnerable segment of Zimbabwean society.
The workshop was structured in several presentations covering the main issues interested by the official PRSP process, spanning from trade and labour to agriculture, natural resources and climate change. Despite the variety of challenges addressed, the common ground identified by the panellists lied in the unanimous recognition that the strategies drafted in the interim PRSP appear to lack a solid macroeconomic policy framework to effectively tackle issues such as the scarcity of foreign direct investments (FDI), a shrinking revenues base, illicit capital flows, economic vulnerability due to the absence of a domestic currency and a dangerous dependence on natural resource extraction. During the workshop, some contrasts emerged with regard to the prioritisation of the different pillars to be reformed, with the outcome of popular consultations stressing “agriculture” as the most urgent issue to be addressed whilst the academia pointed out the necessity to find a long-lasting solution to the current liquidity crisis and to the macroeconomic instability arising from the dependence on foreign currencies. However, all the participants acknowledged that a unsustainable government expenditure makes the country heavily reliant on donors for the provisions of health and social services to people and agreed on the need to reduce dependency on foreign aid and focus more on domestic resources mobilisation (DRM) which, if properly managed and redistributed, would be sufficient to tackle poverty and alleviate the odious debt currently pending on Zimbabweans’ shoulders. But to do so, reforms strengthening institutional capacity are needed, to ensure that political entities are adequately held accountable for corrupt practices and technical bodies are truly autonomous from any form of political control. Overall, the consent over the need to end the current impunity regime as a pre-requisite for Zimbabwe to exit the debt trap and finally climb up the global value chain, moving away from its bottom role of raw materials supplier, echoed across the conference room, finding all the presents on the same page. The road ahead is still long, but the commitment of present actors in ensuring a more equitable representation of civil society’s claims and embark alternative views, more sensitive to the poor and vulnerable groups, in the I-PRSP process, represents nonetheless a salient step in the struggle to attain a tangible reduction of poverty and address the human insecurity in the country.