'Socialist' plan in Zimbabwe has private punch

Zimbabwe published its ambitious three-year transitional development plan Monday - the most important economic document to be released since independence in March 1980. The plan envisages total investment of 6.1 billion Zimbabwe dollars ($7.9 billion US) between July 1982 and June 1985.

As part of the government's commitment to a ''socialized'' economy, 59 percent of the planned total investment will take place in the public sector, with the emphasis on manufacturing (23 percent of the total), transport (14 percent), and agriculture (13 percent).

But the bulk of the funds to finance this investment will be generated in the private sector. Private-sector savings are expected to provide nearly half the funds needed.

Nearly 63 percent of the planned investment will be financed from domestic sources - mainly the privately owned corporate sector - while 37 percent will be financed from abroad. Almost half the foreign capital required - $1.4 billion US - has already been pledged to Zimbabwe in the form of grants and loans promised at the March 1981 Zimbabwe conference on reconstruction and development. The rest of the external financing will be raised in the form of foreign investment and public-sector borrowing abroad.

The plan proposes a real growth rate averaging 8 percent a year over the next three years. With population rising at 3 percent a year, this would imply that real incomes per head will be growing at 4.8 percent a year.

Growth is expected to be fastest in the construction sector, where output will expand at 15 percent a year, followed by manufacturing, with an 11 percent growth rate. Despite the emphasis in the plan on rural development, agricultural output is expected to grow at no more than 5 percent annually. The mining industry is set for stagnation, with no rise in output between now and 1985.

Inflation is forecast to average 15 percent annually, while exports will increase by more than 90 percent and imports by 85 percent over the period.

Initial business reaction is that the targets are ambitious and unlikely to be attained. Finance Minister Bernard Chidzero, however, maintained the targets were ''realistic and attainable.'' Officials acknowledge that it will be difficult to achieve the ambitious 8 percent real growth rate at a time of deep world recession, but they are eager that foreign governments, investors, and bankers should focus not so much on the targets themselves but on the underlying policies which they believe to be appropriate to Zimbabwe's needs.

The main objectives of the plan are the reconstruction of the ''war-damaged and sanctions-distorted economy,'' rapid increases in output and employment, greater equity in wealth and income distribution, and the provision of better social services to more people, especially lower-income groups.

Equity and a increasingly socialist economy are underlying themes. The plan includes ''particular measures for transformation toward socialist structures and institutions.''

What concerns businessmen is whether these very worthy objectives are compatible with the high levels of planned investment and the heavy dependence on private-sector sources of income. As a businessman put it, ''If the private sector is not a good deal more profitable than it is today, the investment that government expects us to finance and carry out just won't occur.''

The plan states that the Zimbabwe economy is ''mixed and market-oriented,'' run by agents ''largely unfamiliar with, possibly skeptical, or unsympathetic to , the economic potential of socialist systems.''

This is an accurate enough statement of how the white-dominated business sector sees at least some of the Mugabe government's policies. Businessmen argue that the government's socialist strategy undermines the vibrant private sector, which has been at the hub of the country's impressive recovery from the independence war and 14 years of economic sanctions.

The business sector's viewpoint is strengthened by the orthodox economic advice emanating from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Just how far the Mugabe government is willing to go to meet these two agencies - and specifically the fund with which Zimbabwe is currently negotiating for a loan facility - remains to be seen. But Finance Minister Chidzero's firm rejection of devaluation as a policy option - ''It's just not on,'' he told newsmen - suggests that tough bargaining may be ahead.

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