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Dutch Ambassador urges Zimbabwe to honour property rights

Dutch Ambassador urges Zimbabwe to honour property rights

via Dutch Ambassador urges govt to honour property rights | The Zimbabwean 05.06.14 by Sofia Mapuranga

Relations between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands date back to the days of the liberation struggle. The Dutch Ambassador Gera Sneller (GS) has welcomed government’s efforts to strengthen relations between the two countries and believes Zimbabwe has great potential to become a vibrant economy.

She speaks to Sofia Mapuranga (SM) on the Netherlands’s role in the country’s economic, social and political spheres and her recommendations on the way forward.

SM: The Zimbabwean government has expressed its willingness to re- engage with Western countries. What is your government’s position regarding this move?

GS: It is a positive move that Zimbabwe has expressed its willingness to re-engage the West in general, the European Union in particular.

However, the word re-engagement suggests that there has been a time that we were not engaged. Looking at it from a European Union perspective, even in these past 12-13 years, while certain measures were in place, the EU as a body and its individual member states never disengaged from Zimbabwe and especially not from the Zimbabwean people.

The EU and its member states are the largest donors here, they are involved in many of the key sectors such as health, education and in promoting governance and human rights issues. So we have remained very much engaged through the years.

We feel that Zimbabwe has great economic potential, especially in sectors where Dutch business is traditionally strong: like water, agriculture, horticulture, financial sector, tourism, transport and even mining. If Dutch investors could come here, this would create win-win situations where both our countries would benefit.

So we hope that the government will continue with this policy and follow up on the things that they have said with concrete measures and policy changes, so we can really make things happen.

SM: What is your comment on reports that EU countries are advocates of the regime change agenda?

GS: Maybe the Zimbabwean government feels that way but for us, we never had that intention. Ever since independence, the goal of the Netherlands has been to help build the new independent nation of Zimbabwe.

During past years, our focus has been very much on opening up democratic space for the benefit of Zimbabweans so they can express their free will. It is our “agenda”- if you want to call it that – that the people be in a position to be well informed about the issues and about the stance of the different players on those issues and on that basis to choose freely whom they want as a government.

This is one of the reasons why we focus on media. Media access and media diversity are extremely important in a democratic society, for the voters and for policy makers.

SM: How best can relations between the two countries be improved?

GS: We have to work on it from both sides. The EU has suspended almost all of its targeted measures and there is less than a handful now left. If all goes well and government follows through with a positive policy – especially on governance, human rights, but also in the economic sphere – what we call the “article 96” measures could be lifted. This would mean we could engage more directly with the government on development cooperation.

Some specific things we would like to work on with the government are in the field of governance and the implementation of the Constitution.

Looking for instance at the 2013 elections, the fact that they were peaceful was very positive. However, the report from the AU observation team mentions a number of recommendations, where the government can strengthen the electoral system: Things such as the high numbers of assisted voters and media access in the run up to the elections. We are very willing to work with the government in implementing these AU-recommendations.

Another area where the government could make great strides is the economy, especially the business climate. Most important is that the rules are clear and consistently applied. Zimbabwe needs foreign direct investment and foreign investors, but investors are waiting for what we diplomats like to call “confidence building measures”. At the moment the country’s policies are not favourable to their investments.

Dutch business people are known for their willingness to take commercial risks, but they need to be sure that there are no political risks.

However, we have a considerable group of Dutch investors that have lost their investment in Zimbabwe during the past 14 years, and even though we have a BIPPA in place there has been no protection and no compensation. This makes investors reluctant to invest in this country; the risk is deemed too high.

SM: Your country has invested over $1,6 million in Zimbabwe towards human rights related initiatives. Any particular reason why it chose funding human rights?

GS: The Netherlands chose to support human rights because for many years these were under great pressure in Zimbabwe and the human rights defenders in the country needed assistance. The situation is fortunately much better now, but in some areas non-governmental organisations still need support. We focus on equal rights, on the implementation of the new Constitution and – as I said before – media.

SM: What support can Zimbabwe expect in 2014 from your country?

GS: Towards the end of 2013, my government gave almost a million dollars to the Red Cross to assist in food security. We are now working on continuing other programs through our implementing partners such as UNICEF. These are regional programmes, which also benefit Zimbabwe. The Dutch government supports Dutch organisations such as Oxfam-Novib and HIVOS, which implement programmes here and are active in a lot of sectors. We also have fellowship programmes and Zimbabwean students are among the most successful applicants. We feel that the fellowships create relationships between our students, who are the leaders of tomorrow.

My government has a new approach to development. While we are still one of the larger donors of Official Development Assistance, we also focus more on the bigger picture of development. Many countries in the so-called developing world are at a point that they are able to carry their own development forward. What they need more than anything is international trade and investment. For that reason we now have one minister for Development Cooperation and International Trade.

My government recognises that what you need is the inclusion of the private sector to help build the economy. As an embassy, we try to bridge the existing gaps. Recently we assisted the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority to take part in a tourist fair in The Netherlands: the ITTM. We are optimistic that Zimbabwe could be a wonderful tourist destination. However, this is not well known in Europe. We hope to continue the cooperation with ZTA so that we can assist the country’s tourism sector.

We are at the moment doing research to see what the niches are for Dutch companies both here and in Zambia. We are, for instance, getting a horticultural specialist to do some research on that specific sector. When I presented my credentials to the President, he mentioned the times when a lot of flowers from Zimbabwe went to the Netherlands and how he wants to get that back. That should be possible, if government policies become conducive to investment in that sector.

SM: What would you recommend to help mend the country’s economy?

GS: When it comes to the development of the country, government has to be in the driver’s seat. It is government that directs policy, sets the priorities and creates the enabling environment. The private sector has to use that enabling environment to kick- start the economy.

So the important thing for government is to have a clear plan, identify key sectors and to consider what policies need to be put in place to support these sectors, in consultation with all stakeholders.

However, it is vital that these policies are then carried through: statements of intention are not enough; the private sector needs concrete measures.

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