by Garikai Mafirakureva
THE Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) has ridiculed the recently-launched Government Employees Mutual Savings (GEMS) fund which it says was another scheme meant to dupe the already suffering civil servants of their savings.
PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou told NewsDay that the GEMS was intended to divert the attention of teachers and other civil servants from demanding salaries above the poverty datum line currently pegged at over $20 000.
Secretary to the Public Service Commission, Jonathan Wutawunashe last week launched the scheme, saying that it will enable civil servants to get loans that will cover a broad spectrum of issues such as home improvement, solar electrification, borehole installation, property acquisition, and livestock rearing, among other issues.
The GEMS project will also include a teachers housing scheme, which was mooted in February last year.
Treasury then provided $75 million as seed capital for the GEMS scheme, of which $13.7 million has been allocated for the teachers’ housing scheme.
Zhou said if the $13,7 million is allocated to more than 136 000 teachers employed by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry, it will only amount to a paltry $125 per teacher, which is only enough to buy one loaf of bread.
He said, therefore, the project is only meant to “spin money” meant to benefit the government as it will rake in millions of dollars if the 136 000 teachers contribute 2,5% of their gross salaries towards its funding as envisaged.
“The government has been silent on monthly contributions from willing teachers at 2,5% of gross salary for three months, after which a member wishing to access loans must submit an application through the Primary and Secondary Education ministry. Above all, submission of applications is no guarantee of getting a loan,” Zhou said.
“To make matters worse, the duration of repayment of the loan is not clear, except that the loan would attract interest of between 10 and 15% per annum depending on how much one would have borrowed.
“It is sad that instead of paying teachers a living wage or restoring their purchasing power in parity to pre-October 2018 levels, the government is busy planning to further impoverish teachers through indebtedness,” he said.
Zhou also said the Primary and Secondary Education minstry was littered with previous futile housing schemes that never materialised.
He said these included the late former Education minister Aneas Chigwedere’s Gwindingwi housing scheme of the 1990s in which teachers lost everything they had invested in and another scheme by former Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi and the $60 million loan facility with a local bank, the National Building Society of 2019, among many other schemes.
“As of now it is very difficult to advice PTUZ members on what they should do, as the housing schemes are shrouded in secrecy and unilateralism.
“But unless there is engagement and transparency, teachers may participate in this facility at their own peril.
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
“As leaders we will continue to share with members any information we get on housing scheme projects,” Zhou said.
Wutawunashe said contributions would be voluntary.
He said participants would access the loans at concessionary rates that are far below the prevailing market rates.
“A concessionary lending rate of 10% per annum has been set, with the expectation that lending thresholds will range between that rate and 15% per annum, depending on the actual amount applied for and the desired repayment period,” Wutawunashe said.
Follow Garikai on Twitter @garry4peace