ARDA should be privatised say analysts

Problems at the government owned Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) is an example of the government’s prolonged failure to privatise its struggling parastatals, analysts have said.

Disgruntled workers recently highlighted the sorry situation at the parastatal in a letter to The Zimbabwean chronicling how the once thriving organisation had been brought to its knees by what they called corrupt management.

The workers pointed to problems such as ARDA’s debt, exacerbated by a $9m loan from CBZ Bank for tea plucking machines bought from Brazil in

2004. The machines had never been delivered. They also said ARDA had failed to appoint a permanent general manager.

The authority owns vast agricultural estates across the country, many of which are lying idle. Economic analyst Innocent Makwiramiti told The Zimbabwean that the situation at ARDA required the intervention of private capital.

Makwiramiti said the authority had immense potential but could only deliver if government relinquished its hold.

“Like all the other parastatals, ARDA needs to be privatised. Private capital will bring with it the required skills and technology,” he said. “ARDA’s past shows that it can be revived, but only through the sound management that the private sector can provide.”

Makwiramiti said the company’s huge cattle ranches and tea estates needed professional and qualified people to run them. Another economic analyst, John Robertson, said that managerial shortcomings could only be addressed if ARDA became a private company.

“Right now, government is the least attractive employer in the country. It only attracts people looking for job security because they know that their chances of losing their jobs due to poor performance are nil,” he said.

People with the skills that ARDA needs would rather work for the private sector, he added. Robertson said that, with the land reform programme, the government had placed a severe handicap on itself because the resultant economic malaise was choking entities such as ARDA.

“The liquidity problems that we have in the country mean that farmers, including ARDA, are not able to use the land significantly,” he said. ARDA is reportedly failing to pay some of its workers. Over the years, management has been accused of diverting inputs, equipment and human resources meant for its estates to farms owned by top politicians.

The government, in its new economic blueprint acknowledges the problems at institutions such as ARDA, AgriBank, the Grain Marketing Board, and the Agricultural Marketing Authority.

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