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EDITORIAL COMMENT : Results, not talk, the new standard

Results, not rhetoric, is the hallmark of the Second Republic since talk is cheap but actions actually move Zimbabwe and its people forward.

This has been reflected in the recent public calendar of President Mnangagwa. He has been busy in recent weeks, but his public schedule has been dominated by commissioning things, opening buildings and launching new systems and new ways of doing things.

As Chancellor of all State universities, the last weeks of each year mean the graduation ceremonies, and these are important, especially to the graduates. But each ceremony has been accompanied by the visit to the new university innovation hub and the commissioning of its associated industrial park, or the new units in that park.

These are an important Government policy, the expansion of the education system and conversion of years of rhetoric, seminars and conferences under the old dispensation to the focus of the Second Republic, the results. The idea is relatively simple. There is a lot of exceptionally highly educated technical and other talent at every university, these academics are bound to do research as well as teach, and Zimbabwe needs solutions to its myriad of problems.

Connecting the talent to the problems, and ensuring the research is delving into solutions, is an obvious policy, but was relatively low key for a long time, and what applied research was done was largely through the unsupported initiatives of individual lecturers, often with inadequate equipment as well as very little institutional backing.

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That has changed dramatically under the new dispensation.

Universities are not ivory towers separated from their communities but active participants in the development of Zimbabwe.

This is not to say that pure research is banned, but the pure research needs to be targeted at the causes of what is happening, filling in gaps in knowledge and bringing the disparate bits together, explaining the underlying problem if you like.

And it then needs to go further, to see how the research results can be applied and practical solutions derived.

To a large extent this is ideal work for universities, with their emphasis on research rather than operating within existing knowledge and existing methods. But at the same time it needs to be focussed, research priorities set, teams assembled. Teams are not that difficult; there are always graduate students advancing their own qualifications and their own careers and it is just as easy to get them solving practical problems as exploring the outer limits of abstract knowledge.

This is where the innovation hubs come in, as the centre of the focus.

They cannot be a one-person show, or even a collection of one-person shows.

While one person can be set a particular goal, that person will quickly run into issues that need other areas of expertise, and even some research into matters that seem unconnected at  first.

For example, an engineering researcher will probably need at some stage expert advice from a materials scientist, or from a chemist.

And in turn those might need to know from a geologist whether a particular material can be mined in Zimbabwe, or from an agricultural scientist over whether a particular crop variety can be grown.

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And so a practical question grows into a coordinated research effort. In a university environment all these researchers are round the corner from each other and are personal acquaintances.

Of course, such research might need funding. Some can come from the normal grants made to universities by the Government, and we need to remember that universities have a high level of autonomy and can largely use their bulk grants as they wish, so long as the money is used and not wasted.

But there is no problem about the private sector, wanting a solution or advice, in paying for that.

The private sector does this already, and all too often the first reaction of a lot of corporate boards is to seek out a consultant from somewhere else, as if a foreigner is bound to know more.

Certainly there are no lack of foreigners ready to fly in and, at very high levels of fees, offer solutions that may or may not fit the Zimbabwean environment or the needs of a particular company.

Sometimes that might be the case, but if Zimbabwe’s universities are building up their ability to solve problems then surely the first port of call should be the universities. At least the corporation will be dealing with Zimbabweans, and at least they can apply pressure to make sure the solution fits the local requirement.

Another Presidential public function last week was the opening of the one-stop centre for investment.

Again, in the old days, this was discussed and talked about at length.

Papers were written, seminars were held, and a whole lot of new organisations were set up, which was not exactly the greatest solution.

Under the Second Republic the instruction was “fix it”. A legal draftsman spent a couple of months putting the bits together, Parliament said what a great idea, and a few months later the President was being shown around the one-stop centre.

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A businessperson or an investor can walk in and a short while later walk out with the answers, and get the permits very soon after that.

Ease of doing business is not just ensuring the rules are as simple as possible, and there are limits to that process as any development has to meet legal, tax, environmental, health, labour, and other requirements. But all this ceases to be a major hurdle if you can sit down at one desk, get the details, have someone trying to help instead of quoting arcane regulations, and are no longer told to drive halfway across town to see someone else.

The one-stop centre means the interdepartmental strife and empire building is simply not there. The process has been fixed as well as the new concept introduced. And in a single centre everyone is forced to work together.

Obviously the President cannot do everything himself.

He can approve policies, but expects his Government to do the hard work and turn policy into results.

And last week there was yet another event that reflected the new attitude, the permanent secretaries, the heads of the civil service, signing new contracts that carefully, and in great detail, lay down what they have to do next year.

Another reform, turning the professional head of a ministry from a bureaucrat into an innovator who fixes things and gets things done.

Obviously they have to have an administrative machine that works and the accounts have to be perfect. But that is no longer the final goal, just the tool.

ow they are judged on where that machine actually goes.

HERALD