Dumisani Ndlela and Paul Nyakazeya
AN avalanche of fiscal pressures have forced government to dump plans for payment of last year’s civil servants’ bonuses which are now in arrears after efforts to seek a bailout package from external funders dismally failed.
The development seals the fate of the over 550 000 civil servants who have been agitating for the 13th cheque since November last year, and comes against the backdrop of an expected visit by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team from February 24 to March 11 to review Zimbabwe’s third and final Staff-Monitored Programme, an informal agreement between country authorities and staff from the Fund to monitor the implementation of agreed economic programmes.
Government has committed itself under this programme to drastically reduce its wage bill, which accounts for over 80 percent of government expenditure.
It has been prevaricating on its bonus pledge, and is wont to avoid public embarrassment by concealing that it does not have the wherewithal to meet its commitment.
Cabinet ministers have insistently promised that government is still scouting for the resources to pay the bonuses, but have refused to commit themselves to specific timeframes.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Prisca Mupfumira, insisted when contacted by the Financial Gazette that government was still awake to its obligation to pay its workers the 13th cheque, although she declined to say when this would be done.
Mupfumira said civil servants should be patient and wait for Treasury to raise enough money to pay them their bonuses.
She told the Financial Gazette: “We are waiting for Treasury to make the money (for bonus payments) available. At present, I am not in a position to say when bonuses will be paid. The only dates we have are when their salaries will be paid.”
She insisted that this was “the official position” and that “anything else you hear or read is not true”.
“Once the money is available, I will make an official statement,” Mupfumira said.
But a Twitter post by Higher and Tertiary Education Minister, Jonathan Moyo, early this month suggesting that a 13th cheque was not a right appears to have been stealthily giving a cue on the direction government was taking.
Moyo said in his Twitter post that many workers were “non-performers and drunkards” who did not deserve bonus payments.
“Well, I’m sympathetic to the view that a bonus should be for extra performance and not an entitlement,” he said.
“Leaving your jacket in the office to go and booze is not a legitimate basis for expecting bonus as an entitlement,” wrote Moyo on his Twitter account.
Apparently, civil servants have been known for the habit of leaving their jackets in offices and going away for long hours.
The Financial Gazette can report that the situation in Treasury is now so dire that government had been forced to suspend recruitment of new teachers in all learning institutions, while those that had taken leave have been recalled because there is no capacity to pay relief staff. Teachers who have resigned or transferred have also not been replaced, one source within government said.
“Things are getting terribly worse,” he said, declining to be identified. “We are just hoping that things may change too soon because the situation is getting untenable.”
Teachers have traditionally constituted the bulk of the civil service.
Another source within the teaching fraternity said the working environment was now terrible, with workers being subjected to threats.
“We normally work with education officers at district level but now there is an overbearing involvement of public service commission officials,” he said, indicating that the mood was now one of resignation.
“If we had somewhere to go, we would leave our jobs,” he said.
Government needs to raise at least US$250 million for bonus payments. It is currently battling to raise monthly salaries for its workers. Teachers, who were due to receive their salaries on Tuesday, had their pay date shifted to yesterday because Treasury had not yet funded their salary payments.
There are indications from available statistics that the national budget has already encountered unforeseen expenditure commitments, with the current drought already beginning to strain the fiscus.
As Finance and Economic Development Minister, Patrick Chinamasa acknowledged during his national budget presentation last year, there is clearly no “scope for manipulation to meet various fiscal expenditure demands” in the current budget.
Sources said highlighted that public medical facilities – including major referral centres like Parirenyatwa, Harare and Mpilo hospitals – had failed to get adequate budgetary allocations for drugs and other commitments, as government lurched deeper into financial quandary.
Reports from major referral hospitals indicated that the situation was drifting towards a crisis, with one report suggesting hospital management at one facility was already contemplating closing a few of its wards to limit the effect of an impending funding crisis.
Most civil servants received their salaries for December this month, but only after threats of industrial action by doctors and nurses.
Government has also refused to make available the salaries calendar for the entire year, something that used to be the norm within the civil service. They are now making salary schedules monthly due to the precarious financial situation.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary general, Ray Majongwe, said they had received information from their contacts in government that indeed government will not fulfil its pledge to pay bonuses.
“We got that information in early January,” said Majongwe. “We’re being taken on a wild goose chase.”
He said ever since President Robert Mugabe promised in April last year that civil servants would get their bonuses, there had been legitimate expectation for the 13th cheque among government workers.
“Some even got debts on the understanding that they would repay these when they get their bonuses,” said Majongwe.
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association chief executive officer, Sifiso Ndlovu, said they were putting pressure on government to fulfil its promise.
Sifiso said he did not want to comment on government’s ability to pay, insisting it had a commitment and that had to be honoured.
“We will continue to exert pressure on government. If the Ministry of Labour says they are waiting for Treasury to raise enough money, it means they are engaging. We expect the issue of civil servants bonus to be one of the main agenda during the first Cabinet meeting this year,” he said.
Ndlovu said paying civil servants bonuses was the right thing to do for government and a commitment had already been made.
“It is now left to Treasury to make sure that they deliver, which is the part we are waiting for. When will this happen is now the key question for all civil servants,” he said.
President Mugabe returned on holiday in the Far East with his family last week. He convened his first Cabinet meeting this year on Tuesday.
It was not immediately known if the issue had been discussed in Cabinet, but there is evidence every organ of government was beginning to reel from the funding crisis.
PTUZ has already called for an go slow by teachers to press government to meet its commitments.
Government has been under pressure from the Apex Council, a body that represents workers in salary negotiations, which is demanding exact dates for the bonuses.
The embarrassing thing for the cash-strapped government is that for the first time since independence in 1980, civil servants spent Christmas without receiving their monthly pay. They were later paid during the first week of January.
Chinamasa has previously indicated that government did not have the capacity to pay civil servants’ bonuses. He was however rebuked by President Mugabe, who implored him to scout for funding to pay civil servants bonuses because this was the right thing to do. President Mugabe insisted that when government bestows a benefit on civil servants, that benefit could not be withdrawn because it becomes a right. Bonuses for the 2014, which were made in batches, spilled over into 2015, creating budgetary pressure during the previous year.
Figures from Treasury indicate that nearly 80 percent of revenue generated by government is directed towards civil servants salaries. Of the projected US$4 billion budget, about US$3,4 billion goes towards government salaries, leaving a balance of about US$700 million for operations, debt servicing and capital development programmes.
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