By Elias Mambo
HARARE – Vocal Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister Patrick Zhuwao has vowed to protect youth brigades — the ruling Zanu PF’s political shock troopers — under his ministry who constitute a significant number of the 75 000 ghost workers on the government payroll.
The ministry employees at least five youth officers in each of the country’s 1 200 wards who gobble up about US$2,5 million in salaries every month. The youth officers have no job description although they are known to mobilise on behalf of Zanu PF during elections.
More than 75 000 ghost workers, mostly unqualified Zanu PF militias and supporters, were unearthed in the civil service through a comprehensive payroll and skills audit done by Ernst & Young (India) on behalf of the Public Service ministry in 2011.
The ghost workers included 6 861 employed in one day in a single ministry.
The deteriorating economic outlook has finally spurred government into action with Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa indicating his intention to cut the wage bill from more than 80% to less than 40% of government revenues.
However, Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira has been insisting government will not retrench workers, including ghost employees. She has said the wage bill will be cut through various means other than the dismissal of any of its more than 550 000 civil servants, a position Chinamasa seems to have now embraced out of political expediency.
In an interview this week, Zhuwao however denied the youth officers were Zanu PF foot soldiers insisting they play a crucial role in the facilitation of the empowerment programme at grassroots level.
“I am an economist as well as a politician. The role of government is to facilitate empowerment and that can only be done if the relevant ministry has officials at grassroots level,” Zhuwao said.
“If I have one official it means he or she can facilitate only 10 people, but if I have five, then it means we will be able to reach out to 50 people and in the process facilitating the empowerment programme.
“What it means is that I will not retreat and cut down, but I will strengthen the officers and grow this economy. I will not buy into the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank ideas which seek to remove the facilitatory role of government.”
This, however, is contrary to the raft of measures promised in a letter of intent to the IMF by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya, which mainly focused on cutting down the government wage bill.
The bulk of the youth officers, who are employed by the ministry, are drawn from the controversial National Youth Service programme.
They are being paid through the Salary Service Bureau (SSB), which is responsible for processing of salaries and allowances for all personnel employed in by the public service.
Last week, former finance minister Tendai Biti said the Zanu PF government was not ready to implement economic reforms because that would be political suicide.
Zhuwao’s response fits into an assessment by Biti who told the Zimbabwe Independent government would not implement reforms to cut the wage bill by, among other things, dismissing ghost workers as they were crucial in propping up the Zanu PF regime.
“Implementing reforms means retrenching the bloated civil service which has close to a 550 000-strong workforce gobbling close to 80% of the revenue,” said Biti.
“Accepting reforms means dismantling the machinery which brought Zanu PF into power and they are not ready to dismantle that power retention infrastructure. A good example is that during my time, there were 235 000 civil servants, but now there are over 550 000 employees.
“Government must fire those 200 000 ghost workers who were recruited during the run-up to the 2013 elections. Genuine reforms demand that those people are fired like yesterday, but political expedience means that those people cannot be fired because they brought you into power and the next election is less than 36 months away.” Zimbabwe Independent