HARARE - Civil servants, who are considered among the least paid in the country, last Friday celebrated lavishly President Robert Mugabe’s birthday at a time when government is failing to meet their salary demands.
The event, organised by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), was attended by senior government officials and securocrats at a local hotel.
For years, civil servants have been at the receiving end, with government making unfulfilled promises.
During last year’s election campaign, Zanu PF promised civil servants a Poverty Datum Line-based salary increment. However, eight months down the line, the promise has not yet been fulfilled.
Government has been giving excuses for its failure to increase salaries, but Friday’s event was a merry-making encounter, as the civil servants continue to wallow in poverty.
Nicholas Goche, the Public Service minister yesterday told the Daily News on Sunday that it was the civil servants who requested to hold a luncheon for Mugabe.
Asked about the wisdom of having such an event against the background of the civil servants’ welfare, Goche said the two were not connected.
“Is that what the civil servants have asked you to ask me? What we know is they asked to have the luncheon for the president and that has no relationship with the issue of salaries. Did you not hear the president saying that they will be given (salary increments) in April?
“We will only give them what we agreed with them and not anything outside that. The story must end there,” Goche said.
While the civil servants are pushing to get an amount above the PDL currently standing at $560, government has offered them a paltry $79, backdated to January this year.
On average, civil servants take home nearly $300.
During the celebrations, Mugabe assured government workers that they will get an increment by April 1, a pledge viewed by critics as another hollow attempt to calm the agitated civil servants.
Raymond Majongwe, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) leader said the celebrations displayed serious signs of political dislocation on the part of the civil servants.
Majongwe said while it was good to join others in celebrating such an “unbelievable feat”, civil servants needed to remain focused on issues that affected them.
“The real tragedy is that as civil servants unions, we are under pressure from our expectant constituencies. The celebrations must not divert attention from the real issues, which will see us being told today that we get our salaries first in February, then April until June and August.
“It will be wrong to be seen participating in celebrations where opulence and extravagance are displayed at a time when there are national priorities such as the Tokwe-Mukorsi and Tsholotsho disasters,” said the PTUZ leader.
Majongwe further told the Daily News on Sunday that government workers, instead of wining and dining with the 90-year-old president, should spare a thought for children who cannot go to school and their teachers who are operating under difficult conditions in Tokwe-Mukorsi.
During the belated 90th birthday celebrations, Mugabe said government was going through a difficult patch as a result of sanctions.
“This has resulted in a delay in the fulfilment of the promises of a salary increment that we made last year,” Mugabe said.
Others however doubt Mugabe’s sincerity, considering that sanctions have been affecting the country for the past decade and will still be in place by April 1.
But the nonagenarian said as a government, they cannot continue blaming sanctions for their failures, given the country’s rich mineral resources.
Under the previous administration, Zanu PF blamed its unity government partner, the MDC, which was in charge of the Finance ministry for blocking salary hikes.
After winning last year’s disputed elections, the Zanu PF-led government is still struggling to fulfil the salary increment promise.
Civil servants make up the country’s largest workforce at about 230 000.
Previous negotiations between government and the civil servants have failed to yield results.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa in his 2014 budget statement presentation said civil servants salaries were swallowing nearly 75 percent of the State’s monthly income, adding that the figure was too high.
He said a desirable figure would be for salaries to be cut to at least 30 percent of government income.
The continued failure by the Zanu PF-led government to meet the salary promise is said to be pushing civil servants to the edge, fast drawing them closer to an inevitable industrial action.
In the past, civil service organisations have blamed the government for being insincere and negotiating in bad faith.