Of salary cuts U-turn and needless hubbub

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THE shooting down of some of the austerity cost cutting measures proposed in the Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review Statement by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa has caused needless hubbub.
Chinamasa had proposed a reduction in salaries and allowances of civil servants by 5% to 20%. The reduction was to start with deputy directors going up the ladder. He had proposed a two-year suspension of civil servants bonuses. The minister had also tabled a proposal to cull the civil service by 25 000 to reduce the wage bill which is currently gobbling 97% of government revenue.
His proposals caused anxiety within the civil servants which some political vultures were already geared to exploit for political expediency. As a government with a principal who has people at heart, those proposals were shot down.  Thus, the civil servants will receive their bonuses and their salaries will not be cut.  President Mugabe has since assured civil servants that government will never withdraw their benefits.
“The rules are that when government bestows benefits to all civil servants, those benefits cannot be withdrawn because it is a right. That is there in the rules governing the handling of public servants when they are given a benefit, we cannot reverse it at all. It has become their right and that is what we standby. So your bonuses will come to you,” said President Mugabe in April last year in response to another attempt by Chinamasa to suspend civil servants bonuses.
President Mugabe has always been a man of his word and indeed he has stood by his word this time around again. That government assurance put to rest anxieties that had arisen within the civil service. Morale has been restored. Government adversaries who had planned to exploit civil servants’ resentment are evidently not amused by the turn of events. The noise being made is just a clear anger over the disruption of their sinister plot to exploit government workers’ disgruntlement.
During a consultative dialogue on the proposed National Transitional Authority (NTA)  held at the Southern African Policy and Economic Series (SAPES) on 15 September 2016 , the movers of NTA agreed to engage civil servants especially teachers and health staff in the NTA project. They said civil servants had a tremendous capacity to put pressure on government as shown during the so-called national shut down.Advertisement

The shadowy groups cunningly scheduled their shut down call to coincide with a stay away by civil servants who were protesting against a delay in the payment of their June salary. As a result, the stay away had a modicum of success. The shadowy groups enjoyed collateral benefits and claimed false credit on the success. These are the same collateral benefits that the opposition political parties wanted to enjoy if government had approved Chinamasa’s proposals to suspend civil servants’ bonuses and cut their pays and allowances.
The hullabaloo is much ado about nothing, more so coming from people who have since declared war against the recovery of this economy. It summons up memories of the proverbial bachelor who takes pain to wipe mucous from a spinster’s child.  According to Chinamasa, the cost cutting measures were meant to put the economy back on the track and the opposition showered him with astounding praises for taking ‘bold policy decisions and economic reforms.’  But Chinamasa should know better that one has to count his teeth after kissing the devil. 
Those praises were not genuine for they were coming from the people who called for the sanctions which brought the current misery. These are the same people who are attempting to block Zimbabwe from accessing fresh capital injection from International Financial Institutions (IFS). Biti, for instance, has been making the loudest noise yet he was recently globetrotting the world discouraging global financiers from extending financial support to Zimbabwe.
The MDC-T supporters along with the likes of Patson Dzamara recently presented a petition to the World Bank imploring it to deny the government of Zimbabwe lines of credit as punishment for alleged misrule.  These are the same people who are today fighting at the corner of Chinamasa, accusing government of thwarting his efforts to resuscitate the economy. Do these people really want Chinamasa to give the kiss of life to the economy? If so, why would they burn properties in protest against the regulation of imports and introduction of bond notes which are meant to revive the economy? The wise Shona elders would say ‘Mwoyochena ndowei bere kugarira munhu akafa (what kindness is it for a hyena to mount guard over a dead man)?
Accusations of policy inconsistency have been flying all over with some advising Chinamasa to quit. The imagined policy inconsistency is all of sudden being ranked as the worst deterrent for foreign investment. Is it really policy inconsistency?
What Chinamasa presented to Parliament was a set of proposals. A proposal is a plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration or discussion by others. Those proposals were subject to approval or disapproval. This is the reason why Chinamasa implored parliament to think seriously about his proposals. It is the same reason he used the words “I propose” before saying out his proposals. Having been presented with the proposals, government, in its wisdom found it necessary to reject some of them.
It’s unfortunate that some people had misconstrued the proposals as a policy cast in stone. That misconstruction had caused a lot of anxieties within the civil service and government simply clarified its position. The debate on whether cabinet had given Chinamasa a green light or whether the later was defying cabinet decision is subject for debate for another day. The point is that the government, through the Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Dr Chris Mushohwe put forward a clarification not a policy volte-face as some people want everyone to believe.
It’s undisputable that Chinamasa is having a Devil of a time in trying to make the economy work again in the face of excruciating sanctions. Even Tendai Biti had to plead with the Assistant US Treasury Secretary, Charles Collyns to lift the ban imposed on Marange diamonds which he had pinned hope for the 2012 National Budget when he was the Finance Minister in the Inclusive Government.
However, Chinamasa still has many other options of reducing expenditure. A serious commitment to the eradication of corruption will pay dividend to the economy. He can also lobby for the downsizing of both cabinet and parliament.
There is a tired question on where Chinamasa would get the money to pay the salaries and bonuses. That is exactly what the minister was employed for. The president was not lost to the economic challenges facing the country when he assigned Chinamasa to that ministry. The President actually wanted amadoda sibili (brave man of spine) who can face the challenge head on and make the country move on. Perhaps the learned minister agreed to face the challenge.
One of Chinamasa’s strategies of getting external financial support is through clearing the external debt to pave way for fresh injection from the IFS, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Hopefully his proposals were not a prescription from the IFS or an attempt to please them. Gerry Rice, IMF spokesperson already indicated that there is no financing programme with Zimbabwe. Chinamasa can withdraw civil servants bonuses and cut their salaries in order to save money to clear the external debt but there is no guarantee that he will get that money.