International investment conference opens in Harare
By Tichaona Sibanda
9 July 2009
A two day international investment conference opened in Harare on Thursday, where the three political leaders to the Global Political Agreement sought to promote the country as an investment destination.
Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara told the conference that Zimbabwe—long tagged a high-cost, high-risk place to do business—is becoming a more hospitable destination for investors.
The conference is expected to discuss topical issues such as banking, agriculture, tourism, mining, and infrastructure development. Economic Planning minister Elton Mangoma told the conference the signing of the GPA last year and the formulation of an inclusive Government in February has given renewed hope for the country to make a proper start to sustainable economic recovery.
The key to this, according to the address by deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, was restoring the rule of law, which provides the foundation of confidence for contractual dealings and investor activity, without which no economy can run effectively.
He said: ‘The rule of law, transparency and accountability in the public sector serve not only as means to counter corruption but also as fundamental conditions of good governance’.
Our Harare correspondent Simon Muchemwa said investors at the conference took a keen interest in the energy, mining, construction and telecommunication sectors. These are perceived as sectors with the highest potential for profitability.
But there were also concerns raised by investors during a question and answer session with the three leaders that real reforms have yet to take root in the country. Others felt Zimbabwe was still a place where property rights are not respected.
This prompted a response from Mugabe who repeated his stance that former colonial ruler Britain was responsible for paying owners who were stripped of their farms. However Tsvangirai said that all parties in the country recognised land reform was needed, but differed on their approach.
‘We are going to conduct a land audit and we will set up a land commission to address all disputes arising from land reform,’ he said.
But he didn’t go into any explanation of exactly how such a complex task would be undertaken.
Attempts to resuscitate the country’s ailing economy commenced soon after the formation of the unity government in February. The Prime Minister has pronounced ‘job creation and the creation of a conducive environment for investment as one of the priority issues’ which his government is set to tackle to turn the economy around.
Zimbabwe’s potential in terms of huge natural resources, elevates the country to a prominent position - an attractive, haven for investment. But the biggest impediments remain the failure by the inclusive government to restore democratic freedoms and the rule of law.
Supporters of Tsvangirai’s MDC are still victims of political persecution and progress toward greater democracy was being undermined by hardliners backing Mugabe.
Meanwhile the MDC issued a statement saying it was deeply concerned by media reports that government officials were insisting that journalists intending to cover the Investment Conference in Harare should be accredited by the legally defunct Media and Information Commission (MIC).
Our Harare correspondent had been told on Wednesday he would not be allowed to cover the conference because he is not accredited with the media commission.
But SW Radio Africa was able to work out a plan with officials from the economic planning ministry for Muchemwa to cover the conference.
In a press statement the MDC said they believed that the High Court order, which declared the media commission a legal nullity, should be respected, especially by the inclusive government which should be seen to be doing business in a different way.
‘A government that is enticing serious businesspersons to invest in the country cannot be seen to be defying court orders. It is ironic that the inclusive government, which is trying to woo investors, including those wishing to invest in the media, would bar the same media persons from doing their work unless they are accredited by an illegal body,’ the statement said.
In May the Prime Minister announced that journalists were now free to report on Zimbabwe without government approval since the MIC had been legally disbanded in 2008. He was promptly contradicted by Information Minister Shamu who warned of arrest for those without accreditation.
The two day investment conference is being held under the theme “Zimbabwe: Redefining Business and Investment Environment” and is aimed at projecting Zimbabwe as a conducive investment destination – but on Wednesday, on the eve of the conference, hordes of Zanu-PF supporters disrupted mining operations at Bikita Minerals, a major producer of lithium in the country.
Media reports said senior officials in Mugabe’s party were eyeing a take-over of the mine, with retired army colonel Claudius Makova, leading the campaign. Others implicated in the take-over bid include former governor of Masvingo, Dzikamai Mavhaire.
While company and property ownership is so completely ignored in Zimbabwe, the unity government will have no hope whatsoever of encouraging any investment.