Will Mugabe take this?

HARARE - On Friday, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced in his Mid-Term Fiscal Review Statement that government was planning to retrench, cut civil servants’ salaries and bonuses for 2016 and 2017 as part of measures aimed at cutting the State’s expenditure.

While Chinamasa’s plans may sound prudent, they may not — as happened last year — see the light of day.

Following Chinamasa’s announcement then that government did not have money to pay civil servants bonuses for 2015, President Robert Mugabe slammed the Treasury chief for doing so without consultation, ordering him to look for the money.

The whole country is aware of what happened later as government struggled to pay not only the said bonuses but also its workers’ monthly salaries for this year.

In his statement, Chinamasa announced that first half revenue collection was $1,8 billion — which is 9,8 percent below target with an expenditure of $2,3 billion against a $2 billion target. Chinamasa’s prudence is fairly commendable but only if it is implemented. These are measures that are already overdue since he had presented the same in Lima, Peru last year.

It will be surprising if Mugabe does not trash his lieutenant’s pronouncement with another populist position, which may once again leave Chinamasa with egg on his face.

Rationalisation of the civil service, whose wage bill currently stands at $245 million per month — 76 percent of revenue — is part of the International Monetary Fund’s Staff- Monitored Programme recommendations that would bring the wage bill to 40 percent.

According to official figures, government currently employs 298 000 which Chinamasa plans to trim to 273 000. We hope Chinamasa’s exercise — which is very necessary — will start by removing ghost workers who have continued to be a burden on government’s empty coffers. This should be the starting point of the rationalisation programme.

Recent protests have plagued Zimbabwe, with ordinary citizens demanding for Mugabe’s immediate resignation owing to his failed 36-year rule in which several companies have closed down, throwing thousands onto the streets, and also a debilitating economic crisis. Protesters have also complained over rampant public sector corruption and poor government policies for the current rot.

Obtaining cash shortages have forced government to announce plans to introduce bond notes.

Civil servants, who have for long complained against low salaries and poor working conditions have also threatened to unfurl protests to protest government’s unilateral decision to cut their salaries.

It is unlikely that Mugabe will let Chinamasa have it his way and risk losing the support of the country’s biggest workforce.

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