COUNCIL and State-owned company bosses’ contempt for ratepayers and the nation at large appears to know no bounds. They keep on taking people for granted. They don’t see people as people.
ECHOES BY CONWAY TUTANI
They are now making noises about the “illegality” of Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s interim slashing of their salaries and perks to $6 000 monthly whereas they have made money — through self-awarded obscene salary packages ranging from $40 000 to $500 000 — equivalent to 10 or even more lifetimes, while the average worker barely takes home $300. If you factor in their tax evasion escapades, they won’t exactly be made poor through their much-reduced pay and perks.
In the circumstances, the remarks made by labour law expert Rodgers Matsikidzire this week that imposition of the salary cut is illegal are more embarrassing than helpful. He said: “Either they agree or say pay us until the end of the contract . . . It’s either there is a mutual settlement or an employee is bought out of the contract and those are the options there.”
This narrow legal approach is out of place because in the first place, the top executives had no right whatsoever to do what they did. It does not impress employees who have gone for months without pay and struggling ratepayers who are being made to pay for non-existent services.
If the current labour laws cannot address these grave matters urgently, effectively and — crucially — holistically, then they have become meaningless and redundant. People are not that dense not to see the anomalies. They are not that thick not to see that someone could be hiding criminality behind legality. They have grown to know court games — like delays and obfuscation — where cleverness can win over justness.
Lawyers themselves should not indulge people who are a danger to society by narrowly citing the law. The situation calls for activist lawyers who can see that the law as it stands does not meet the requirements of justice and fairness from a societal point of view. We should be driven by a social conscience, not be merely legalistic. This is not business as usual, but systemic corruption we are talking about.
Another lawyer, Tawanda Zhuwarara, in refreshing contrast, rightly pointed out that we had to look at the bigger picture that a much bigger illegality had been committed by the top executives.
Zhuwarara said: “Section 195 sub-section 1 of the Constitution (of Zimbabwe) says all companies and institutions owned by the State should abide by the generally accepted standards. Where an individual gets $500 000 and the company can’t pay its workers, it’s not good corporate governance. It’s not just stupid — it’s illegal. If you look at the surface, it’s (the salary cut) unfair, but it is legal and necessary . . . no crime might have been committed, but these salaries are tantamount to fraud.”
Indeed, we don’t ordinarily compensate fraudsters for their ill-gotten gains. Such legal forthrightness is called for in this case of wilful and systematic looting of State resources by those holding public office. These are not isolated cases, but corruption of cancerous damage.
The other flimsy excuse that has been given against the salary cut is that this would result in a brain drain to neighbouring countries. Citing earnings in the region is not helpful at all because the income gap in Africa is the highest in the world. We cannot copy selfish and destructive ways. Anyway, what brain drain when these executives have actually been a financial drain on the organisations they “lead”? When a top
Harare council official is reportedly double-dipping by “draining”
$2 000 cash every Friday as weekend entertainment allowance when the benefit is already paid with his salary? All this is brainless, so there won’t be any drain if they dare resign in disgruntlement. If it was their money, they wouldn’t spend it so recklessly, but they do so because it’s others’ money.
From the way they are presenting themselves, you would think they run a company with demanding shareholders to whom they declare dividends whereas they have reduced themselves to mere collectors of statutory revenue — in the form of monthly water and rates bills, one of the most straightforward tasks, a no-brainer — and immediately spend the money on their lavish lifestyles to the almost total exclusion of service delivery.
There is no competition unlike companies in other sectors which have to constantly innovate, improve products and increase sales. They have a captive clientele because most properties are connected to water and are, by law, rateable. This is far from a complex business, but they are still failing to provide water and fix potholes. So, what brain drain?
As has been proven, these top executives are among some of the most pretentious, deceitful and double-faced lot you will ever meet or see.
They attribute their “success” to having “always been hard workers” whereas insiders know that they fill company lorries with fuel to take to their farms every Friday. How can they not win farming awards when they virtually have no expenses to meet?
Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit in the United States, was last year jailed for 28 years “for running a money-making racket out of City Hall” seen in the “pattern of extortion, bribery and fraud”, as described by the judge and prosecutor.
As we speak, if this thieving lot here were in China, they would have been stripped of everything and languishing in jail or — at the worst — summarily executed. Do we have to resort to the quick Chinese fix — the fastest and sharpest solution to ensure the problem does not recur in the near future?
Councils and State-owned enterprises will be better off without persons who cling to jobs for personal gain without giving anything in return to the point of exhausting others’ resources; in other words, parasites.
It’s time for them to get out of the way. They have had more than their fill at the feeding trough.
We need to pass to the next generations the conviction to do the right thing.