By Gift Phiri
President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke government is heading for another big showdown with restive civil servants after both the nonagenarian and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa doggedly chose to keep mum this week on salaries for December, as well as the promised year-end bonuses for government employees.
This comes as the edgy civil servants insisted yesterday that they were expecting to get paid both their December salaries and 13th cheques that Mugabe promised them in September well before Christmas.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, during his much-criticised State of the Nation Address (Sona), Mugabe skirted the hot potato — leaving the government’s increasingly apprehensive workers to dejectedly pin their hopes on the 2017 budget presentation by Chinamasa on Thursday, who also dodged the issue.
This led representatives of the now agitated civil servants to tell the Daily News yesterday that as Mugabe’s word was more powerful than Chinamasa’s, they were holding the president to his promises — further vowing to press their demands to be paid both their salaries for this month and bonuses before Christmas.
“Based on what the head of State and government, and commander-in-chief (Mugabe) said, that workers must get bonuses, we anticipate being paid our bonuses as promised.
“We are perplexed when those mandated to do the job (Cabinet minister’s) keep quiet on this. Those given the responsibility to announce our perks must do their job now.
“Our position is very clear, we want the bonus payments to be done before the festive season. I don’t think anyone would go against the word of the president of the country,” the spokesperson of the main union for state workers, the Apex Council — George Mushipe — said.
He added that civil servants were set to hold an emergency meeting late yesterday, to discuss the issues surrounding their salaries and bonuses further. The outcomes of the meeting were not known late last night, when the Daily News went to press.
Sources within the civil service said as bonus payments were usually disclosed in the national budget statement, which didn’t happen on Thursday, they were fearful that this could constitute the first move in the mooted pay cut for government employees, who now make up about two-thirds of all working Zimbabweans as the country’s economy continues to die.
Zimbabwe is currently deep in the throes of a mega economic crisis which has seen government revenues falling precipitously, amid horrendous company closures and private sector job losses.
As a result, the government has been struggling to meet its key obligations, including paying civil servants on time, and leading to several standoffs with its workers.
On July 6 this year, thousands of civil servants stayed away from work and heeded a call by exiled activist cleric, Evan Mawarire, to stage a crippling general strike which was variously described as one of the biggest stayaways ever held in the country.
As part of his measures to try and cut down the government’s huge expenditure bill, 90 percent of which goes to the salaries and benefits of its bloated workforce, Chinamasa tried to temporarily stop paying bonuses and to reduce public service staff numbers in his September mid-term fiscal policy review statement.
But Mugabe’s cash-strapped government swiftly reversed all the measures in what was described as a spectacular own goal, which sent shock waves throughout the country.
Former civic leader McDonald Lewanika told the Daily News this week, following the unveiling of the grim national budget, that it was clear that the country was headed for economic turmoil and that long-suffering citizens, including civil servants, needed to brace for more hardships going forward.
“There are no signs from this budget statement and other policy statements from government that show that the government has the competence and capacity to resolve the economic challenges currently facing the country,” he said.
Another analyst, Dewa Mavhinga, said in the absence of meaningful production, the government was likely to be “tempted to abuse bond notes” to pacify its restive workers.
“The dire state of the economy as correctly portrayed by Chinamasa means that since there is no production and meaningful exports to talk about, the government may find itself printing bond notes excessively to fund salaries and bonuses.
“That would unfortunately precipitate massive economic decline, even as it would provide a short-term solution to the Zanu PF government that now lives on a hand to mouth basis,” Mavhinga warned.
In his Thursday budget statement, Chinamasa painted a gloomy outlook for Zimbabwe’s struggling economy.
He sharply revised downwards the country’s 2016 growth prospects from the previously hoped for 2,7 percent to a mere 0,6 percent — pointing to more troubles ahead for long-suffering populace.
The lawyer-turned Treasury chief, who has often won industry’s kudos for his pragmatism despite his principals’ destructive policies, was also man enough to admit openly that the country’s economy was facing “a number of headwinds” that were retarding growth.
Analysts said the gloomy outlook would likely pile more pressure on Mugabe and his Zanu PF government who are already facing a myriad problems as things stand.
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 fail nonagenarian and Zanu PF are battling growing citizen unrest, with Zimbabweans blaming his government for presiding over the country’s dying economy and the deepening rot in the former regional breadbasket. Daily News