Bleak Christmas for civil servants

HARARE - Long-suffering civil servants, who have been hoping for a change in their fortunes for the better, will endure yet another miserable festive season after President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke government announced yesterday that the bulk of its workers would only be paid after Christmas and early next year.

In a pay schedule that is certain to raise the blood pressure of the edgy civil servants — who have for the past few weeks been agitating to get their December pay and bonuses before Christmas — the government made it clear that only the security and health sectors would be paid on time, on December 21.

This sets the stage for a bruising confrontation between the State and the remainder of its workforce, like what happened earlier this year when angry civil servants contributed to the mounting of one of the biggest stay-aways in the history of the country.

Ominously, representatives of civil servants’ unions who spoke to the Daily News last night said they would fight to get the government to pay them their salaries before Christmas, amid clear indications of a looming mega feud between the State and its workers.

Public Service minister Prisca Mupfumira had earlier confirmed to the Daily News that just as was the case last year, only members of the security and health sector would receive their salaries before Christmas.

“Members of the Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force and those in the health services sector are getting their salaries on December 21. Those in the Education sector will be paid on December 28, with the rest of civil servants and pensioners getting paid on January 3 and 6, 2017 respectively,” she said.

Worryingly for civil servants, Mupfumira, did not also indicate whether and when the government was going to pay its workers their 2017 bonuses, as was promised to them by Mugabe in September.

“I am not ready to comment about that because we are waiting to hear from Treasury and they have not said anything yet. Maybe by the end of the week they will say something,” she added.

The spokesperson of the main union for state workers, the Apex Council — George Mushipe — said they would fight to get the government to pay them their salaries on December 22.

“We cannot afford to spend this festive season without our salaries. Our families need to enjoy the fruits of our labour and apart from that we also have other obligations that need to be taken care of as well,” he said.

On its part, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) was doubtful that the government would award them bonuses this year, seeing that the State was already struggling to pay them their salaries.

“There is no hope, especially given that the budget was silent on such a critical issue. They don’t have definite dates and every month there is anxiety among teachers because of the late payments. The government has also not been writing pay dates on our pay slips and we hold our breath every month.

“They have not said anything about bonuses either and the uncertainty continues,” Zimta chief executive, Sifiso Ndlovu, lamented.

Last week the civil servants were left sweating over their bonuses when both Mugabe and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa avoided talking about the issue during the State of the Nation Address (Sona) and national budget presentations in Parliament.

Speaking during his much-criticised Sona, Mugabe skirted the hot potato — leaving the government's increasingly apprehensive workers to dejectedly pin their hopes on the 2017 budget presentation by Chinamasa, who also dodged the issue.

This led representatives of the now agitated civil servants to tell the Daily News that as Mugabe’s word was more powerful than Chinamasa’s, they were holding the president to his promises — further vowing to press their demands to be paid both their salaries for this month and bonuses before Christmas.

Zimbabwe is currently deep in the throes of a mega economic crisis which has seen government revenues falling precipitously, amid horrendous company closures and private sector job losses.

As a result, the government has been struggling to meet its key obligations, including paying civil servants on time, and leading to several stand-offs with its workers.

On July 6 this year, thousands of civil servants stayed away from work and heeded a call by exiled activist cleric, Evan Mawarire, to stage a crippling general strike which was variously described as one of the biggest stay-aways ever held in the country.

As part of his measures to try and cut down the government's huge expenditure bill, about 90 percent of which goes to the salaries and benefits of its bloated workforce, Chinamasa tried to temporarily stop paying bonuses and to reduce public service staff numbers in his September mid-term fiscal policy review statement.

But Mugabe’s cash-strapped government swiftly reversed all the measures in what was described as a spectacular own goal, which sent shock waves throughout the country.

In his last budget statement last week, Chinamasa painted a gloomy outlook for Zimbabwe's struggling economy, sharply revising downwards the country's 2016 growth prospects from the previously hoped for 2,7 percent to a mere 0,6 percent — ans thereby pointing to more troubles ahead for long-suffering citizens.

The lawyer-turned treasury chief, who has often won industry's kudos for his pragmatism despite his principals' destructive policies, was also brave enough to admit openly that the country's economy was facing “a number of headwinds” that were retarding growth.

Analysts said the gloomy outlook would likely pile more pressure on Mugabe and his Zanu PF government who are already facing myriad problems as things stand.

Civic leader and political analyst Gladys Hlatwayo said yesterday that the cash-strapped government was prioritising the uniformed forces over the rest of the civil service because it had one eye on the 2018 national elections.

“You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that the armed forces are high on their priority list as if we are a country at war. Even the just-presented national budget demonstrated this ... as the services of the armed forces will be so much needed in 2018,” Hlatywayo told the Daily News.

“But prioritising one section of the civil service over others serves to dampen the morale and motivation of the rest of the civil service and has ramifications on service delivery. The bad news is the situation is likely to get worse given the worsening economic situation and even if the government starts printing money, now that we have bond notes.

“The challenge we face is that our government is not focusing on economic productivity because most of the reforms needed in this respect are political economy reforms that will require shifts in its politics. The economic challenges we face are man-made and tied to the politics of our country,” she added.

Mugabe — the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980 — is facing the biggest challenge to his 36-year rule.

The increasingly fail nonagenarian and Zanu PF are battling growing citizen unrest, with Zimbabweans blaming his government for presiding over the country’s dying economy and the deepening rot in the former regional breadbasket.

Comments (8)

This now child's play. Apa Grace Mugabe is spending a million dollars plus on a diamond ring while people are suffering. What crime did Zimbabweans commit to deserve such.

concode - 14 December 2016

we will not lose sleep over bonuses for people in the unproductive sector who spent the better part of their time at work demanding bribes

truth - 14 December 2016

@truth, are you talking about Mugabe and your ministers? Apparently those are the first to be paid, even when they can use their bribe monies to buy 1.5m dollar rings for mahwezu avo.

Donato Matibili - 15 December 2016

The treasury coffers may be empty but the all the zanu pf leaders are filthy rich such that a single minister can be able to pay all the civil servants by himself from his own loot.The zanu pf mafia has raped the economy left,right and centre.

Janana wa Bikaz - 15 December 2016

The treasury coffers may be empty but the all the zanu pf leaders are filthy rich such that a single minister can be able to pay all the civil servants by himself from his own loot.The zanu pf mafia has raped the economy left,right and centre.

Janana wa Bikaz - 15 December 2016

Please take this opportunity to serve your valuable moneys that is usually splashed in these few days of celebration. It could be otherwise a blessing in disguise

Mutatu Mupegi - 15 December 2016

Please take this opportunity to serve your valuable moneys that is usually splashed in these few days of celebration. It could be otherwise a blessing in disguise

Mutatu Mupegi - 15 December 2016

November pensions are still not paid. Yet december pensions are also due. What will become of us the old people?

pensioner - 19 December 2016

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