There is growing furore over the issue of civil servants’ salaries. While President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF component of government accuse Finance minister Tendai Biti of refusing to award the civil service salary increases, the minister insists there is no money to support them.
Teachers have threatened to go on strike if they do not get a salary rise this month as promised by President Mugabe.
The Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe last week called on its members to leave classrooms if they do not see increments in their salaries on June 21, their payday.
Now the question is: where is the money?
There is no doubt that civil servants have shown unparalled loyalty to the country by working for practically nothing over many years.
During the Zimbabwe-dollar era, salaries of teachers, among other civil servants, were less than US$10, but they showed patience and soldiered on.
The formation of the inclusive government gave them hope and they understood when the government pleaded for patience arguing its coffers were empty.
They were told that they would get their “milk and honey” once the country was allowed to sell its diamonds. Diamond sales came, but the funds did not trickle down to their pockets.
Then came accusations and counter-accusations between Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu backed by his principal President Mugabe on one hand, and Biti, who maintained that diamond revenue was not flowing into the national fiscus as alleged, on the other. Mpofu and Mugabe maintained Biti had received the money, confusing the long-suffering civil servants in the process.
It is clear that the civil servants’ salary issue has been politicised, more so ahead of elections which should be held by 2013, at the latest. Zanu PF would want to blame Biti for the civil servants’ misery by painting itself as a party that has the workers at heart and is concerned about their welfare while giving the impression that Biti and his MDC-T are heartless and not concerned about the generality of Zimbabweans.
There is therefore need for transparency on the revenue which the government is generating, be it from mineral sales, taxes, or other sources of income, so that the civil servants’ salaries can be addressed. The country’s priorities need to be known and addressed appropriately.
There is a feeling that the country’s priorities are lopsided as said by Zaka Central MP Harrisson Mudzuri last week during the debate on the adoption of a $98 million loan to fund the construction of the defence forces staff college.
Mudzuri argued that though it may seem important to build the staff college, it was not a priority at the present moment considering where the country was coming from.
The honourable MP said priority should have been focused on economic and political stability and, for the army in particular, priority should have focused on the provisions of uniforms, their salaries and improvement of their conditions of service.
“It is absurd that a hungry person, a person who is starving, is being given a suit; it is actually irrelevant,” Mudzuri said.
If the money to award civil servants’ salary increments is at all there, we wonder why it has become so difficult to give it to them.