Austerity begins with the Executive, Mr President

As promised in our previous article, this week we focus on ways in which government can cut expenditure. It is a commonly accepted fact that our government has a weakness when it comes to spending. Government is unable to stick to any form of cost-cutting measures, and this has been the case for over two decades. If Zimbabwe is, indeed, open for business and this is a new dispensation, then a break from the past should be evident when it comes to spending. Here are ways in which the government can reduce its spending

Just saying: Paul Kaseke

Say bye-bye to deputy ministers

Though there are some obvious improvements from the previous administration, Zimbabwe’s Executive is still simply too large for a struggling economy. It should be noted that more successful economies operate with a reduced Executive branch, generally ranging from 10 to 15 individuals. The Executive in Zimbabwe needs to be reconstructed to consider the economic realities the country faces. In this regard, there should be no deputy ministers (DMs) at all. While DMs are part of the Executive, they do not exercise executive authority nor are they members of Cabinet in terms of the Constitution.

The argument that they stand in for the minister is thus not constitutionally valid or at the very least, is severely curtailed by the Constitution. A DM cannot exercise executive authority on behalf of the minister, but they can attend social gatherings and other functions which do not amount to Cabinet duties or executive authority. That begs the question why the taxpayers need to shoulder such unnecessary expenditure. I have nothing against the individuals occupying these offices, but I have always been of the view that the post is a formality rather than a necessity, which is why the Constitution does not compel the President to appoint DMs.

Section 104 is unambiguous in stating that the President “may appoint DMs”. In the spirit of austerity, positions with no set constitutional mandate or necessary mandate must be abolished, and this is where the President can exercise the discretion in not appointing any DM. One must bear in mind that the perks of ministers and DMs are not fully disclosed to the public, but from previous court cases and investigative journalism reports, these are highly paid individuals who get cars, private security details, enhancements to their private dwellings and other allowances that may never come to light. Whatever it is that DMs get, is in my view, expenditure that can be better channelled elsewhere.

Restructure the civil service

Like the Executive, the civil service is a bloated aspect of government. There have been numerous reports of ghost employees, and the previous Finance minister tried to deal with these, but I doubt the problem was eradicated fully. In addition, the civil service has many duplicated roles. For instance, there are several functions performed by principal directors that either feed into the role of the permanent secretary or other office holders in the ministry.

The principal director’s position mirrors in a large sense, the role played by the permanent secretary and the distinction may amount to nothing more than an academic debate. Government can easily merge such positions where duplications exist. In terms of administrative efficiency, it is an accepted practice that if certain positions can be delegated to one or more members of the department to prevent the need for the creation of a position, then this is the preferred route to take.

I have seen several contracts and job descriptions for civil servants and in most cases, these are either vague or can be found in some else’s job description, meaning a duplication or ambiguity exists – both of which are undesirable in any functional bureaucracy. Without divulging much, one such contract had no job description and simply stated that the employee had to perform any and all tasks assigned to him. To enhance efficiency and optimum use of scarce resources, government must make the hard decision to restructure and get rid of redundant or duplicated positions, especially at management level since these often come with hefty benefits and perks.

Look East or look West, but stay home

One major shift from former President Robert Mugabe’s administration must necessarily be a reduction in travel. Far too much time and money was spent globetrotting by the former leader. Where travel is necessary, delegations must be drastically decrease and only individuals who are, as part of their job description, required to attend, must travel.

Family delegations must come to an end (save for the First Lady in the case of the President) and travel must be on an emergency or necessity basis. In other words, if it is not justifiable as an emergency or a necessity, then it must be shelved as the country rebuilds. It is pointless to attend every single gathering of world leaders when half the meetings attended have no direct bearing on the country and, indeed, bear no direct or indirect benefit to the country. We can take a cue from Tanzania President John Magufuli, who regularly misses global meetings and sends Foreign Affairs minister in his place to cut costs. The reasoning behind this is simple: when the President travels, he almost always has a large delegation made of his staff and security details, but when a minister travels, it can be confined to just two individuals. The President need not attend every meeting under the sun and where it can be avoided completely, we should avoid being tag-alongs for events that do not concern us to save costs. There have been allegations of high-ranking officials who abuse State coffers to fund personal trips or attend insignificant meetings just to get an excuse to travel and get the per diems that come with the travel. This should be stopped and all travel must, as mentioned earlier, be confined to matters of emergency and necessity until the country gets back on its feet.

Slash allowances and salaries

This is a no brainer – salaries must be reduced for top government officials. Several government officials earn ridiculously more than their counterparts in the private sector yet do far less work. In fact, some do no work at all apart from amassing wealth in their personal capacity. Some very inflated salaries still exist from managerial level in ministries and these need to be investigated and corrected. The salaries of the President, Vice-Presidents, Cabinet ministers and DMs must be reduced during this season of austerity. If the citizenry is going to be taxed more, then government must feel the pinch too, and perhaps this will force them to spend responsibly and within the available means.

Privatise failing parastatals

Non-performing parastatals should stop receiving bailouts from government because this only encourages further mismanagement of funds by those entities.
Until good corporate governance finds a home in our parastatals, failing entities must be privatised and become someone else’s problem.

Slash catering and entertainment budgets

The government of Zimbabwe prides itself with fancy catering and entertainment at events. One recent event had a musician charge $70 000 for his three-hour set and the catering bill was almost $40 000. The event was an annually celebrated global day of action (one of many observed in the country). These are completely avoidable expenses. We can observe the International Day of the African Child or Day Against Child Labour without holding fancy events where no less than $100 000 is spent.

In fact, that money should be used in realising a better society by investing in our health facilities. I would go as far as arguing that even the annual Independence Day and Heroes’ Day celebrations can be observed without a function at that National Sports Stadium. Magufuli called off independence day celebrations and chose to focus on fighting cholera – why can this not be done in Zimbabwe? Surely, some of these traditions can be foregone without demeaning or belittling their significance. The President can address the nation via television at State House on these days and that will be more than enough. Why do we need expensive gatherings we cannot afford to host in the first place?

Halt unnecessary car donations

Chiefs recently received 90 new top-of-the range Isuzu trucks from the President. This seems like an incomplete task as there are 280 chiefs in the country who will each receive a new vehicle. The problem here is that this is not the first-time chiefs are given cars by the Executive, which makes one wonder what happened to the previous vehicles they had. The same can be said of Members of Parliament, who also want new cars. The reality is that this is not necessary expenditure now and it cannot be justified in a country where preventable diseases like cholera continue to hold the country hostage. Such expenditure can never be warranted in a country where hospitals lack basic drugs like paracetamol for patients. It’s about priorities and in my view, new expensive cars for chiefs is at the bottom of the priority list. These kinds of donations are a burden to the taxpayer and can wait.

Freeze posts and hiring of consultants

Again, another no brainer. No further hiring should take place within government unless it is a replacement or it is necessary and justifiable. In the absence of this, government must look at reducing its wage bill and not expanding it. Similarly, the conclusion of new consultancy contracts must be halted unless it can be shown that there are no similarly qualified civil servants who can do the same task, albeit inhouse or if it can be shown that the consultant is an essential consultant whose skills and experience government cannot do without or substitute. Yes, this also means no taskforces and certainly no commissions of inquiry for matters that can be dealt with using the criminal justice system … just saying!

Paul Kaseke is a legal adviser, commentator, policy analyst and former law lecturer with the Wits Law School & Pearson Institute of Higher Education (formerly Midrand Graduate Institute). He serves as senior managing partner and current group chair of AfriConsult Firm. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email: feedback@paulkasekesnr.com or follow him on Twitter @paulkasekesnr

1 Comment

  1. Very factual and sensible piece, as usual Paul. I wonder why Zimbabweans expect “technocrats” to solve huge problems when they seem to fail in doing so for simple, sensible ones using basic logic. Leading from the front is a skill strongly lacking in this “new” dispensation.

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