FINANCE Minister Tendai Biti last night accused public sector workers’ unions of being used by Zanu PF on the eve of their street protest over low pay, which will culminate at his office in Harare.
Biti, forced to reduce his 2012 budget by US$600 million last Wednesday, claimed Zanu PF – which is in a coalition with his MDC-T party in which he is secretary general – was trying to project him as incompetent.
But his claims of collusion between Zanu PF and the unions were contemptuously rejected by unionists last night who insisted that their protest was not personalised.
Biti presented his mid-term budget review last Wednesday in which he ruled out pay increases for the government’s 230,000 workers.
This year, Biti said, 73 percent of his US$3,4 billion budget will be used to pay salaries. That is unsustainable, he said.
He blames his budget’s poor performance on a lack of transparency by diamond companies in Marange. So far this year, treasury had received a meagre US$41 million from diamond sales – despite production going up by 129 percent.
“If they are genuine workers who are genuinely interested in understanding why the economy is not moving, surely I would have rather thought the people they should be demonstrating against are the people that are stealing our money which is the diamond producers, in particular that Chinese company called Anjin,” Biti said last night.
“I have no problem with the right to demonstrate, but I have a problem with politicians masquerading as trade unionists, and the hand of the CIO [Central Intelligence Organisation] that I see in this process.”
Biti said he was “prepared to meet genuine workers anytime”, but added: “Genuine workers would also know the procedures to be followed, which are not being followed here.
“The police have been quick to say ‘oh we are allowing them to demonstrate’ when clearly provisions of the law have not been followed, it just shows you the dark hand and the dark forces that are behind this job action.”
Biti claims the protest is specifically targeting his office, yet the budget is approved by the coalition government.
“What the government was basically saying through me last Wednesday is that we don’t have money. We are cutting the budget from US$4 billion to $3,4 billion and the primary reason is the non-performance of diamonds,” Biti told the Voice of America’s Studio 7.
But Richard Gundani, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), rejected Biti’s claims that he could “clearly and self evidently see a political hand” in the planned march.
“That conversation is neither here nor there because our cause is not driven by politics, nor is it motivated by political parties,” Gundani said.
“What we have done is we have made a resolution as the Apex Council [umbrella body for public sector unions], a resolution which we have also adopted as ZIMTA that we are going ahead with Tuesday’s demonstration.
“It is a demonstration which is 100 percent to do with bread and butter issues; it is a demonstration to do with the budget. We want to believe that the budget is a product of government, the different ministers put together constitute a government, so this is not directed at any one individual.”
Gundani accused Biti of creating a “wrong perception which is meant to misdirect people and the general public that we are bent on attacking persons from particular political parties”.
“We are directing our anger at the government in its totality,” he insisted.
Biti’s call for the civil servants to protest in Marange was also rejected by ZIMTA, the largest and oldest union for teachers.
“That is the mandate and the purview of the government ministers to work with those companies to make sure that they unlock those resources,” Gundani said.
The lowest-paid public sector worker earns $286 per month, which unions want raised to $560 per month.
Apex Council president Tendai Chikowore said they held talks with the police on Monday to supply information about their route and plans.
She revealed that the unions had sent an urgent petition to President Robert Mugabe last Thursday asking him to step in to avoid the industrial action, but they had received no response from his office.