I participated in the first of a series of policy dialogues organised by Zeipnet in Zimbabwe. The aim of these is to bring different sectors of society together to discuss certain policy issues. In this first one, the uncoordinated policies of industry and trade were discussed. These policies were formulated in 2012 and the set targets should be achieved by 2016. They are part of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset).
There were more than 50 people at the event and I was surprised to see so many members of the government, and more than 50% of the participants were civil servants. Among them, the director of research of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the director of Insurance and Pensions from the Ministry of Finance, the director of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the principal director for programmes at the Parliament, the director of the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and the Director of the Ministry of Agriculture, among others. Unfortunately the presence of the private sector was low, only three people attended plus a few academics and journalists.
The debate was around the causes for the lack of coordination between policies and an exercise to reflect on possible solutions. I participated as an observant only and was quite impressed by the level of engagement of the government officials, not only most of them stayed throughout the whole event (that is from 9 to 4 hs) but also participated actively of the discussion. What came out of it was a list of “problems”. Surprisingly, they were very self-critical, not blaming other sectors for the existent problems and they had a genuine and open discussion of why this has happened and what can be done about it.
Among the main problems people mentioned were that the policies had been developed without an evidence base, that is, there is not a proper reference to the figures expressed in the policy, for example: exports will increase “by at least 10% annually from US$4.3 billion in 2011 to US$7 billion in 2016”. Furthermore, there has been very little consultation to the affected sectors and therefore this has produced lack of ownership from these. There was reference to the role of the media, not fulfilling its function to inform properly, it has been criticised for not being critical enough and to question the policy and its proposed targets, besides, a lack of planning with concrete timeframes and guidelines has prejudiced the implementation of the policies. It was also widely agreed by participants the need to open up to the world, start learning from other countries, compare Zimbabwe with what is going on in other countries, get external relations in order to attract investment and technology.
Although these sound like very high level problems, the proposed solutions were quite reasonable and give a bit of hope for those who try to somehow improve policymaking: first of all it was openly expressed the will to keep on having these dialogues, also, the matrix for implementation of the policies will be completed with specific deadlines which at the moment don’t exist, and finally an implementing committee would be created to follow on the timeframes. ZeipNET as the organiser of these dialogues has committed to follow up on the agreed action points.
What does this mean for those developing capacities of policymakers? At least in this context, policymakers are willing to make an effort to improve their policies and there is a will to collaborate with those who can help do this. It seems that the most urgent step is to build capacities and provide technical assistance for the formulation of policies, especially on how evidence can inform these. In terms of implementation there is a need to strengthen the skills on planning, monitoring and evaluation. Although everyone in the room expressed the need to have M&E systems in place, there isn’t a clear understanding of what this means. Maybe strengthening existent monitoring processes would be a first step.
Of course this goes in hand with budget allocation, sectorial interests, problems of corruption and personal interests, and a conflicting strategic view of Zimbabwe’s place in the world. It is not necessary to say that donors or practitioners won’t solve this but at least there is room for collaboration and improvement. These policy dialogues are one of many different ways of doing this, they provide the platform for exchanging ideas and expressing needs and motivations that different sectors have to improve Zimbabwe’s policies.