By Mugove Tafirenyika and Fungi Kwaramba
President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke and ever bumbling government has effectively hammered the final nail in the coffin of the country’s dying economy, after the nonagenarian reversed all the measures that Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced last week, as he valiantly attempted to haul Zimbabwe back from the abyss.
The government’s spectacular own goal, which sent shock waves throughout the country, not only puts Chinamasa’s future in government in doubt afresh — after the under pressure Treasury chief was similarly humiliated last year — it also possibly marks the end of the road for Zimbabwe in its stuttering efforts to access funds from the international community.
Crucially, economists told the Daily News yesterday, it also fatally undermined today’s Monetary Policy Statement which is to be announced by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya, ahead of the introduction of the much-distrusted bond notes next month — meant to mitigate the country’s worsening cash shortages.
In his mid-term fiscal policy review statement that he made last week, Chinamasa scrapped bonuses for this year and next year for all public workers as part of a raft of austerity measures that included the pending retrenchments of tens of thousands of civil servants and the cutting of salaries of senior government officials.
But not for the first time, Mugabe would have none of this, with his clueless government announcing late on Tuesday that this had all been a cheap publicity stunt.
“After extensive deliberations, cost cutting measures relating to the civil service were rejected and the position of Cabinet is that the minister of Finance and Economic Development did not take into account the rejection by Cabinet earlier on.
“The president and Cabinet want to assure civil servants, farmers and the public at large that these proposed measures are not friendly operative. It is hoped that this clarification puts to rest anxieties that may have arisen within the civil service, the farming community and the public at large,” it said to the disbelief of the nation.
Respected University of Zimbabwe politics lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, was among those who felt that Mugabe’s decision to reverse Chinamasa’s statement could mark the beginning of the end of the Zanu PF government.
“This is going to do irreparable harm to the country’s efforts to re-engage with the West. That Chinamasa’s statement has been reversed on such a whim is very bad and means that no one is going to trust us anymore. The move is going to shoot down all re-engagement efforts. In a nutshell, what this means is that we have come to the end of the road.
“This is also yet another signal that the centre is not holding anymore. You cannot have a minister announcing this today and a week later the Cabinet refutes that statement,” Masunungure told the Daily News.
“I cannot imagine that the announcement that was made by Chinamasa had once again been made without consultation. The reversal is a sad illustration of a dysfunctional government and bodes ill for the future of the country,” he added.
Economist John Robertson said the government’s decision to go against Chinamasa was “a recipe for disaster” as it would hammer investor confidence.
“When the economy is shrinking it is not economically prudent to be paying bonuses. Where there is conflict between the Finance minister and the president there will also be an inevitable destabilisation of the economy, as this dents investor confidence,” Robertson said.
He urged Chinamasa to defy Mugabe and stick to his guns by implementing his reforms which, the veteran economist described as “pragmatic”.
“It won’t be surprising if the president also goes on to reverse the decision to lay off 25 000 government workers. The minister, under such circumstances, should stand up for his beliefs. He should not spend money which he doesn’t have,” Robertson said.
Former Finance minister Simba Makoni also dismissed suggestions that the decision to suspend bonuses had not been agreed to by Mugabe, saying the nonagenarian was playing his “usual populist politics’’ to win favour with civil servants ahead of the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.
“Mugabe cannot continue to play games with Zimbabweans because we are not fools. He should not believe that he can get favour with civil servants by disowning his Finance minister now, because Zimbabweans know that he is a coward who cannot face reality and that he has played this game of appeasement for a long time now,” Makoni said.
Zimbabwe has been struggling to pay its civil servants in the face of falling revenues and the country’s dying economy.
Mugabe — the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980 — is facing the biggest challenge to his 36-year rule.
The increasingly frail nonagenarian and Zanu PF are battling growing unrest among the country’s restive populace, which blames his government for presiding over the country’s dying economy and the deepening rot in the former regional breadbasket.
Since the economy began experiencing serious turbulence, including witnessing banks running out of cash, the government is under growing pressure as angry Zimbabweans have mounted seemingly unending demonstrations.
Two weeks ago, heavily-armed police ruthlessly crushed a demo organised by 18 opposition parties before they invoked a controversial ban which was later ruled unconstitutional by the High Court.
But on Tuesday police issued another decree prohibiting demonstrations in central Harare, setting themselves on a collision course with opposition parties and pro-democracy groups who have vowed to defy the measures which they say are draconian. Daily News