Take bull by the horns

HARARE - On several occasions, government has made statements of intent to rationalise the civil service and re-engineer the bloat which has compelled it to apportion a huge chunk of its budget expenditure to salaries, wages, allowances and other entitlements.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa admitted during this year’s budget speech that government workers were being paid for nothing while receiving more than a lion’s share — translating into almost 81 percent of the budgetary expenditures going towards employment costs.

“What it means basically is that we are paying people to sit in their offices and not to undertake operations and this is a major challenge we have to address,” he said.

A huge wage bill is a baneful millstone round the neck of any organisation attempting to wean itself of avoidable inefficiencies in order to keep its head above stormy waters of recurrent financial obligations.

Yet he offered nothing noteworthy as an antidote for such a glaring mismatch to economic growth and projected progress enunciated in the much-vaunted national blueprint. Economists are convinced that urgent contraction in public sector requires government to take this raging bull of creating superfluous positions with a heavy political bias in the civil service by the horns for the good of the economy rather than grope about for ways to extract as much revenue as it possibly can from hard-pressed citizens in terms of presumptive taxes.

To attain its objectives catalogued in the ZimAsset blueprint, Zimbabwe needs a leaner, committed and more efficient civil service which merits better salaries. For a start, government can do better by interrogating blurred discoveries which emerged during an ill-fated human capital audit in the course of the GNU such as that one ministry took on board 13 000 employees in a single day, while vital sectors such as health and education suffered human resource deficits.

Second, it must grill commonplace chatter among taxpayers that hundreds more were wilfully put on its payroll to enhance electoral chances prior to last year’s harmonised elections as an initial step to reduce its debilitating wage bill. Government has to be honest with itself if a lasting solution to this hitch has to be effectively tackled.

There is no time for dithering on civil service contraction which has long-term economic benefit for the nation; neither will economic dishonesty through dilly-dallying to take decisive action serve a useful purpose.

There is not the slightest doubt that government plans to take from the poor to gift the rich through a raft of punitive measures aimed a corralling every Zimbabwean into the tax net. Zimbabweans have no quarrel with the state’s intention to widen the tax net and spread the burden but taxpayers are irked when their tax contributions are squandered to meet wage demands for an idle, bloated civil service as Chinamasa admits.

More pragmatic steps need to be taken before the current recession tilts and tips into a depression simply because of the unsustainability of retaining redundant labour.

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