23/03/2009

Buying a driver’s licence

Selling old paper to tourists

From Sokwanele

To get your learner’s license in Zimbabwe costs US$20 and ditto for driving test.
I got a call from a friend who I tested for his learners before he sat the test and I can vouch that he really knew it well.

But he failed 3 times. He was distraught. His neighbour said, ‘Don’t be stupid - clearly they want a bribe’.

So my friend went back to the VID, and asked how much it will REALLY cost.

‘Ooohhhh’, they said, ‘80 for learners, 100 for driving license - and don’t worry, if you come with the money you don’t have to re-sit the exam’.

My friend was convinced he’d already passed three times anyway so he paid and passed. This means that instead of costing US$40 bucks it now costs US$220 to go through the whole process of getting your licence: the official US$40 plus US$180 for what it REALLY costs.

Corruption runs so deep in Zimbabwe it seems impossible that it will ever end: from doctors hi-jacking medical equipment donated for use in hospitals, to nurses selling their donated stocks to patients.

I give blood regularly, FOR FREE, and I am reliably told by a colleague that he had to BUY blood at the government-run hospital at R300 for a pint.

However the days of runaway inflation seem to have passed with the effective dollarisation (and, simultaneously, randisation and pulaisation) of the Zimbawean economy. So what to do with all that cash?
Zimbabwe's wily street hawkers have finally found a use for the worthless 100-trillion-dollar banknotes that were issued here in January. They sell the bizarre banknotes as souvenirs to foreign tourists for $2 each. The currency with the never-ending string of zeroes is quickly fading into history, just two months after the latest notes were printed by the inexhaustible central bank. Also disappearing is Zimbabwe's phenomenal level of hyperinflation, which last year reached a stunning 89.7 sextillion per cent (a number expressed with 21 zeroes), making it the most extreme hyperinflation crisis of any country in modern times.
The stabilisation of the economy has had positive effects:
SOMETHING extraordinary is happening in Zimbabwe. Supermarket shelves that were empty three months ago are once more stacked with produce. Prices, practically doubling daily at one stage, have been going down.The simple explanation for this apparent miracle in Zimbabwe’s broken-down economy is that everything is now priced in US dollars or rands.
Though this report ends,
And the government’s promise to public sector workers is a risky one. Economists reckon that without an injection of foreign exchange, the government’s ability to honour its pledges in dollars will run out towards the end of next month.
Of course, dollarisation doesn't suit everyone. One consequence is that South African (and other) goods are coming into the country while local producers cannot keep up. A dodgy power supply, the destruction of agriculture, lack of capital and loss of workers are all making life difficult for local business.

Government is also trying to control key prices:
Energy Minister Elias Mudzuri on Friday reduced electricity tariffs and set new fuel prices in a move he said was part of efforts by the government to jump start Zimbabwe’s economy. Mudzuri reduced from US$0.9 cents to US$0.7 cents the average electricity tariff with backed to February, ... The price of diesel was set at US$0.85 per litre, US$0.95 for petrol, and US$0.80 for both Jet A1 and paraffin.
Though, historically, price controls have been a recipe for smuggling and black marketeers.

The government's financial situation is dire and unless it is resolved it will have increasingly severe effects on ordinary people. Unpaid bills closed a large part of the telecomms network and access to the internet for a week till part payment was made. More crises could follow. An internal government memo said that by February,

Zimbabwe owed Equatorial Guinea US$222 million for fuel, Noczim US$26,5 million, Noczim-pipeline US$4 million, lines of credit US$195,4 million, GMB US$106,05 million, corporate loans US$240,74 million, diplomatic missions US$30 million, fertilisers US$35,6 million, army/intelligence/police US$20 million, Air Zimbabwe US$10 million, Zinwa US$5 million, China US$5 million, the Registrar-General US$5 million, presidential scholarships US$4 million, Zesa US$40 million, seed US$12 million and currency printing US$100 million. "This amounts to US$1,061,29 billion. Government needs to swiftly raise this money to keep running," the memo says. "Failure to pay some of these obligations urgently would further weaken the country’s credit rating in regional and international markets." The memo says government is facing a serious financial crisis and would need to move with speed to raise funds to save the situation. The crisis is aggravated by a total stock of external debt of over US$5 billion.

Perhaps next week the future will be clearer. The Zimbabwean economic crisis is high on the SADC agenda, though they only seem to be discussing a $2bn package. Maybe that's a clue as to why a sensitive internal memo was leaked.

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