INTERVIEW: Blessed Mhlanga
RECENTLY, President Emmerson Mnangagwa swore in 18 commissioners for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, the Police and Prisons and Correctional Services. NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga caught up with Public Service Commission chairperson Vincent Hungwe (VH), who also chairs the Judicial Service Commission, the ZDF, police and prisons commissions to discuss security sector reforms and conditions of service for civil servants.
ND: We witnessed the President swear in commissioners for the defence forces, police and prisons. What awaits them?
VH: Well, next is work, work, work. The commissioners were, in terms of appointment, approved by His Excellency maybe a month ago, but we could not start any operations in the absence of fulfilling this constitutional requirement to be sworn in by the President. That has now been done, so, we are doubling down to the real work that is before the commissions.
ND: What are the issues that you are looking at, especially in the security sector?
VH: It is basically to ensure that the security services create an environment in this country that is conducive to the observance of law and order, the creation of safety, stability and security for citizens, including those that would, from time to time, want to engage with us on the economic front so that we can improve the livelihoods of our citizens.
ND: Chiefly, there has been talk of security sector reforms to achieve the things you mention. Anything on that front that you are doing in terms of reforming the military and police?
VH: The reform of the security sector is a responsibility that lies with the ministers that have been given mandates in that domain, the Ministers of Home Affairs, Defence and Justice.
So, those are the policy drivers with respect to security sector reform, and we are expecting those ministries to principally champion those reforms.
Ours is really to implement the security reforms that would have been initiated by those line ministers and cleared by Cabinet.
ND: So is there anything that you are implementing as of now in the area of security sector reforms?
VH: Well, there is a lot of work that is being done on conditions of service, the institutional infrastructure for the police, the army and the prisons and correctional services to do their work.
Those are the things we are currently doing, but I thought that the import of your initial questions was to what extent are there imperatives for us to revisit policies with respect to the dispensing of those mandates.
Those issues are not for the commissions, those are issues for the line ministers that are responsible.
ND: The President recently spoke about the erosion of disposable incomes, particularly those of civil servants because of the rising prices. Is there anything that you are doing for the civil servants on that front?
VH: Consistently so because we do engage with our employees from time to time and you will recall that at the beginning of the year, the President granted civil servants some resources and those resources were not negotiated.
It was the President merely indicating and recognising that there have been some challenges with respect to the economy and the increase in prices.
Subsequent to that, we engaged with our employees for purposes of coming up with the cost of living adjustment of $400 million (which) became operational with effect from the 1st of April.
However, since April 1, of course, there has been some changes, there have been some challenges within our economy and we are continuing to engage employees in order to come up with mid-term adjustments to their salaries sometime in June and July.
But over and above salaries and allowances for civil servants, there is always consistent focus on our part as the employer to ensure that non-monetary benefits continue to be delivered to our employees.
Just watch the space in the coming two to three months and see the extent to which we would have gone by way of ensuring that the non-monetary benefits become a reality.
All this is intended to ensure that our workers continue to be barricaded against some of the vicissitudes in the economy.
ND: There has been this programme to streamline civil service to ensure that you put skills where they are required, how far has that programme gone?
VH: That is an ongoing exercise. The PSC has completed its strategic plan (which) has a number of pillars and one of the pillars is skills development, which includes making sure that we deploy our skills to the areas where they are required.
In the process, there will certainly be individuals that are going to be affected, but that will be done in the context of our rules and our procedures and the provisions of the Constitution.
ND: There is the issue of youth officers who were retired from the civil service, what is the situation right now?
VH: Well, the position was, as was indicated in our plan, that some of the youth officers were going to be retired and they have been retired.
Some of them have found space in other areas of economic endeavour and others continue to receive their pensions consistent with the provisions of State Pensions Act.
ND: On the issue of the civil service wage bill, which every Finance minster has insinuated that it is too big. Have there been any significant cuts?
VH: I think we should have a very serious and more nuanced discussion about the veracity of the fact that the civil service wage bill is too big before we conclude that it is necessary for it to be cut.
I am not convinced, as chairman of the commission, and I am not convinced that the civil service and the national wage bill are too big.
It could well be the case that our economy is not growing consistent with the imperative to ensure that the proportion of the amount of the money that we pay to our civil servants remains at a constant level.
What has been happening is that, if the economy is declining, but you have the same numbers of civil servants and bill, the impression is created that it is growing yet it has not been growing.
As a matter of fact, we need about 138 000 to 140 000 working in the Primary and Secondary Education ministry. There is a deficit there and we will continue to narrow that deficit.
The ministry constitutes maybe something like 58% to 60 % of our civil service. What do you want us to do, to close down schools, fire teachers? I don’t think we will ever move in that direction. It will be extremely disingenuous and irresponsible for us to move in that direction.
ND: Can you educate us on the extent of the deficit that you talked about?
VH: The deficit of teachers?
VH: We need an additional 18 000 to 22 000 teachers in this country and we are working on it. At the beginning of the year, we were granted permission to recruit 3 000 teachers and we will continue to increase those recruitments consistent with what the budget will allow us to do.