Stop making these empty promises

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe has once again made a pie-in-the-sky promise to hike government workers’ salaries even though it is apparent that government cannot afford further increases to its wage bill.

It is trite to note that the government wage bill has been ballooning from $381 million in 2009 to over $2,2 billion this year, as the Zanu PF government has continued to employ its henchmen as if there is no tomorrow.

Mugabe’s promises also fly in the face of austerity pronouncements by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa who ruled out pay increases for 2016, and prescriptions by the IMF which wants the wage bill trimmed.

The pronouncement is even more surprising given that Chinamasa had earlier announced that government had suspended bonus payments to civil servants until 2017 in a bid to reduce its massive wage-bill which gobbles up about 80 percent of its income.

Populist Mugabe rescinded the move, saying Cabinet had not approved the suspension. As we speak, government has failed to pay 2015 bonuses.

Was Mugabe’s promise yesterday inelegant? Yes. Was it as bad as some of his other remarks about civil servants emoluments? Not even close.

Mugabe was clumsy, and Bretton Woods institutions will be overreaching for a clear connection here.

The government, battling with a $10 billion debt has to reduce its wage bill to meet targets set under the IMF’s Staff Monitored Programme, an informal agreement between a government and IMF staff to monitor the implementation of a particular country’s economic reforms, whose key benchmarks include reducing the government’s wage bill.

How does Mugabe claim to be backing re-engagement efforts when his pronouncements yesterday clearly go against IMF prescriptions?

In this country, many institutions that embody the checks and balances required in a democracy are being slowly but surely undermined by the executive arm of government — whether it is Parliament, the courts, civil society or the independent media.

Yet power, especially in emerging democracies, is not known to concede much without sensing a threat or an inherent advantage for itself.

Mugabe must simply stop making these empty promises or raising false hope among civil servants. This breeds chaos and an unnecessary crisis of expectation.

This kind of action should inspire more Zimbabweans to become demanding of our leaders, rather than seeing them as overlords who boss over us, including making impossible promises that never come to fruition.

If we do not stand up to the people we supposedly put in power, we may realise too late that without citizens’ critical voices, even elective democracy can breed dangerous autocracy.

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