HARARE - Paying civil servants their 2015 bonuses is not a priority for government right now, Public Service minister Prisca Mupfumira said yesterday.
The Zanu PF legislator’s remarks also come as Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo recently said bonuses — for all workers — were not an entitlement for as long as productivity was low and in a development likely to be seen as an affront to President Robert Mugabe’s populist response to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa last year.
“It is a matter of priorities . . . people are starving out there and government has no money, so the priority at the moment is to feed the people,” Mupfumira told the Daily News yesterday, adding that she was not sure when the bonus money was going to be availed.
“I urge civil servants to be patient because like we said, we are committed to paying because the president said we must and now it’s a matter of when not if. We do not have a date yet because of the other things we are grappling with but Treasury is looking for the money and once it is there, they will be paid. We all need bonus, don’t we?”
However, civil servants have been threatening to go on strike since last year, as government has been telling them that their bonuses would be paid soon. Still, nothing has materialised.
In April last year, Chinamasa — whose pragmatic approach to his work has won him wide praise — announced that the government had suspended civil servants’ bonuses until 2017, owing to the country’s shrinking tax base.
But barely a week later, Mugabe reversed the decision, making a mockery of his Treasury chief and expressing disgust at Chinamasa’s announcement. Mugabe said the Finance minister had neither consulted him nor had Cabinet ever discussed the issue.
“I want to make it clear that the report which was in the newspapers that bonuses were being withdrawn is not government policy,” the nonagenarian thundered.
“The Cabinet did not approve that at all and the presidency was never consulted on the matter. We were never consulted the three of us, that is myself and the two vice presidents and we say that is disgusting to us and it will never be implemented at all.”
Later, Mupfumira announced that government would stagger the bonus payments, with the uniformed forces supposed to have received their money last month.
Teachers and other civil servants had to endure a bleak Christmas last year as they only received their salaries after the festive season.
The government has for a long time been struggling to foot its salary bill which gobbles up to $260 million a month, constituting about 82 percent of its total budget.
In his April statement, Chinamasa said the government no longer had the capacity to pay bonuses as the State had challenges in collecting taxes, arguing further that paying bonuses would mean “bleeding” the already depressed formal sector.
“I am reluctant to increase taxes in order to increase revenues to the fiscus. In fact, to do so will be very negative in my view and it’s like trying to squeeze blood from a stone, so I am reluctant to use that route,” Chinamasa said.
In his twitter post, Moyo said: “Well, I’m sympathetic to the view that a bonus should be for extra-performance and not an entitlement!” and “Leaving your jacket in the office to go & booze is not a legitimate basis for expecting bonus as an entitlement!” Moyo wrote on his Twitter account.