FINANCE minister Patrick Chinamasa was yesterday asked to reverse a ban on the importation of second-hand clothes and shoes or risk his Mid-Term Fiscal Review being rejected by the National Assembly.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
Members of Parliament from across the political divide said they would not pass the Finance Bill to operationalise Chinamasa’s 2015 Mid-Term Budget Review in its current form because it was insensitive to the poor.
The review proposes a number of austerity measures that include a ban on second-hand clothes for health reasons and an upward review of surtax on motor vehicles older than five years.
The MPs demanded that Chinamasa should revise the policy statement to ensure it protected vulnerable members of society, deal with food security issues and promote job security, among other things, before they could pass it.
Chinamasa, in his presentation last Thursday, revised downwards the 2015 National Budget from $4,2 billion to $3,9 billion.
Proportional Representation MP Ruth Labode (MDC-T) said Chinamasa should lift the ban on second-hand clothing, saying only importation of used undergarments should be prohibited.
Bulawayo South MP Eddie Cross (MDC-T) said the banning of second-hand clothes should not be taken lightly as most poor Zimbabweans would “go naked” if denied access to them.
“About 96% of the population is unemployed, with two and a half million selling in the streets and 500 000 in artisanal mining (panning) and these are symptoms of the economic crisis,” Cross said.
“If we deny our people access to cheap clothing which is a fundamental welfare issue, they will go naked if we force them to buy new clothes because they cannot afford them.”
Another Proportional Representation legislator, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC), said the ban should have been confined to second-hand underwear, which posed a health risk.
“Banning of second-hand clothes should be very specific to issues to do with undergarments,” she said.
“I still hold that position and I hope doctors here will buttress the point that they cause fungal infection and pubic lice.
“When you talk about undergarments, you talk of people putting on these things on the most sensitive parts of human anatomy.
“So, when I brought up the used panties, it was as if I was doing human anatomy and if I had spoken of it without showing the underwear, I am sure Chinamasa was going to say I am a drama queen.”
Misihairabwi-Mushonga caused a storm in the House recently when she paraded second-hand undergarments to support her call for a ban on the imports.
Bikita West MP Munyaradzi Kereke (Zanu PF) also criticised Chinamasa’s proposal saying the ban on second-hand clothes was not supported by any facts on the ground.
“While protection of local industries is laudable, banning of the sale of second-hand clothes is an argument losing traction.
Some of the imported bales contain new clothes,” Kereke said.
“In my view, if a household can buy clothes at $1, it is not necessarily bad given the circumstances of hardships. “Imposing duty on second-hand clothes to raise revenue will not do much.
“We need to look at how government can fund and retool local industries. We cannot divert attention from production and focus on needless tension.”
Binga North MP Prince Dubeko Sibanda (MDC-T) weighed in saying vendors would be affected by the ban.
“Banning of second-hand clothes will impact on the economy and the majority of vendors will not have disposable income and at the end of the day, it is going to depress inflation to even lower levels,” he said.
Buhera South MP Joseph Chinotimba (Zanu PF) said the ban was unwise because many people were going for months without salaries and if denied access to second-hand clothes, they would end up wearing tattered clothes.
“The Mid-Term Budget should be scrutinised and taken back to Chinamasa for revisiting before passage because it is not pro-poor,” he said.
“We have blocked second-hand clothes and so what are the fired people now going to sell?
“Ministers must be careful and consult people before churning out policies and statements.”
Chirumanzu-Zibagwe MP Auxillia Mnangagwa (Zanu PF) said the ban on the importation and sale of second-hand clothes would fuel divorce as it would result in most families losing their only sources of income.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development chaired by David Chapfika (Zanu PF) said the Mid-Term Budget statement failed to attend to poverty reduction issues such as food security and introduce measures to harness revenue into the fiscus.
“The committee recommends all revenue collected by departments should be channelled to the Consolidated Revenue Fund,” Chapfika said.
“The minister proposed to reduce employment costs from 80% to 40% without stating how he intends to do so.
“This is either by reducing the size of the civil service or reducing salary levels.
“Government does not have the financial resources for retrenchment packages and sending employees without payment will be in violation of the labour laws and Constitution.”
Sibanda said Cabinet should also be affected by retrenchments as there were several redundant ministries which government was failing to fund.
“We need to show serious political will on retrenchments because we cannot talk of retrenching the people on the ground without retrenching ourselves up there,” he said.
Mabvuku-Tafara MP James Maridadi (MDC-T) said the budget lacked measures to protect employees, adding civil servants who would be fired should take government to the International Criminal Court.
Chinamasa last week said there was need to cut the civil service wage bill from the current 83% to 40% of revenue.
“You cannot talk of retrenching civil servants when during election campaigns you promised ZimAsset would create 2,2 million jobs,” Maridadi said.
“Otherwise civil servants should take government to the International Criminal Court if they are retrenched.”
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfimira insists that the government would not retrench workers, but would find means of cutting down employment costs.