IT seems the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing on the issue of civil service bonuses.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa called a Press conference last week to announce categorically that the bonuses would not be paid for the next two years beginning this year. Sitting next to him was Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Jonathan Moyo and Presidential spokesperson George Charamba.
The reasons given for the withdrawal were detailed, cogent and strong. On paper, they made economic sense. But factor in the human element that the majority of civil servants are struggling, the decision should not have been so drastic. Civil servants naturally reacted with disappointment and anger.
How could they not when they are presently earning a pittance, with most of their salaries below the poverty datum line? How could they have responded otherwise when they see that the tiniest minority is earning obscene salaries?
Did the ministers jump the gun? We say this in the wake of President Robert Mugabe’s strong denial during his Independence Day speech on Saturday that such a decision had been made regarding the bonuses.
“. . . I want to make it clear that the reports in the newspapers that bonuses were being withdrawn, is not government policy. The Cabinet did not approve all that and the Presidency was never consulted on the matter. We were never consulted — the three of us, and that is myself and the Vice-Presidents — and we say that it is disgusting to us and it will never be implemented at all.”
Or is the “climbdown” due to the subsequent fallout? One would have expected the announcement of such a far-reaching decision after all the due clearance from the highest office in the land. The delayed response has not gone unnoticed but then, Mugabe, the politician that he is, maybe wanted his rebuttal to have maximum coverage and effect with virtually every Zimbabwean glued to the television.
Bar the politics of it, there is need for a completely new salary policy under which all employees are fairly and justly remunerated. How can we have someone in a government-linked organisation pay himself $500 000 a month as Premier Service Medical Aid Society CEO Cuthbert Dube has been earning and getting away with it?
This is patently wrong, unjustified, immoral and extortionate. Instead of adding value, he is taking away than he is giving. This has been in the public domain since the so-called “Salarygate” scandal was sensationally publicised in the State media. The nation expected heads to roll immediately, but real, meaningful, substantive commensurate action has not been taken.
Furthermore, this has been going on for years under Mugabe’s watch, so he bears the greatest share of blame because the buck stops with him. But the political will to tackle the issue decisively has not been there so far and for too long.
This government can afford to pay civil service bonuses if the national economic cake is shared more equitably than is presently the case. Belt-tightening must start and be most severe at the top. Only then can things start to fall into place.
It goes deeper than the immediate, very important issue of civil service bonuses. It’s about a distorted economy with scandalously widening income inequality under a supposedly socialist-inclined government that has seen them struggling to pay the mere crumbs of bonuses.