HARARE - The cash-strapped Zimbabwe government is failing to remit money deducted from civil servants’ salaries for credit facilities, straining relations between the State and its workers.
As a result, civil servants have hit a bad patch with creditors, with some attaching the government workers’ properties and mulling legal action over unpaid dues, which government has defaulted on despite effecting deductions as reflected on their salary advice slips.
Owing to low salaries that are far below the poverty datum line, most civil servants cannot afford to buy basics such as clothing, furniture and electric gadgets on cash and rely on credit facilities from service providers such as TV Sales and Home, Edgars and other retail outlets.
The government employees also pay their monthly trade union subscriptions as well as servicing their bank loans using the same method, but say government is not remitting the deducted cash amid a tightening liquidity crunch.
Their monthly instalments are being deducted by government via the Salary Services Bureau (SSB), but are not being transmitted to the service providers, the Daily News has learnt.
Patrick Chinamasa, the Finance minister, confirmed the development but down-played it as “an operational matter”, referring questions to Willard Manungo, the Public Service permanent secretary, who was unreachable yesterday.
Public Service minister Nicholas Goche referred us back to Chinamasa.
“I think that has to be answered by the minister of Finance because it is not my responsibility as a Public Service minister,” Goche told the Daily News yesterday.
Sifiso Ndlovu, Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association chief executive officer, said their bank record showed that government deposited money on February 28 as union dues deducted from the 230 000-strong civil service, for just 30 minutes, but the cash was somehow recalled.
“The government has not been remitting money that it deducts from civil servants salaries to the service providers,” Ndlovu told the Daily News.
“The amount runs into several millions and we are shocked as to why the government is doing this.
“Even us, as the unions, we are not getting anything and yet the government deducts union subscriptions fees from the civil servants’ salaries.
“We are worried that the same government that is failing to increase salaries is trying to sabotage unions by withholding our money.”
He said his organisation had sought an explanation from government without success.
Tendai Biti, former Finance minister, recently told a news conference that government was creating a “debt crisis”.
“Those of you who have relatives who are civil servants, which is all of us, know what I am talking about,” Biti said in his alternative state of the economy address.
“I have a sekuru (uncle) who is a civil servant. He came to show me his pay slip and he earns $400.
“What they did with this month’s salary (January) was that my sekuru has deductions, stop orders.
One is for maintenance, the other one for Edgars, and the other one for a micro finance institution. His net salary is $100 out of $400. They only paid him $100.
But they stopped the stop orders, so they are creating a debt crisis. I am told they are trying to pay that, so they are really defaulting on salaries and if you fail to honour my stop orders it is me who has failed to pay.”
Biti warned that the crisis would spiral out of control, to an extent that government wouldeventually fail to pay civil servants.
In his budget statement, Chinamasa said the government wage bill was gobbling up an unsustainable 75 percent of government revenue. He said this needed to be reduced to
30 percent by 2018, but did not explain how he intended doing this.
As it is, government has failed to bankroll a $78 pay hike it forced civil servants to accept, with the State saying it has no cash to fund the adjustment.
In his birthday interview, President Robert Mugabe gave Chinamasa an ultimatum to resign if he was not up to the task.
“And so we must have normal salaries. Yes, we cannot have them from day one, but we must have them on paper for a start and work towards their being fulfilled in practice. And that Chinamasa is doing,” said Mugabe in the interview with the State broadcaster to mark his 90th birthday.
“At first he said we could not do it and I said, well if you can’t do it tell me, I will get someone to do it.”
Biti said government was in a catch-22 situation .
“So they are going to get into these increasing situations where they even fail to pay salaries,” he said.
“So what is their solution? They are not talking to anyone, there is no foreign direct investment, the supply side of the economy is dead, there is a liquidity crunch, they have to print money to monetise these deficits that they are creating.
“Whether they like it or not, the Zim dollar is coming back. Just as much as the US dollar came against their resolutions.”