Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Real Issues Behind the Confusion Over Civil Servants Bonuses

Brief Remarks to the Media Center Zimbabwe Roundtable Discussion

Tuesday 28 April 2015.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The issue of cabinet discordance over civil service bonuses is one that should correctly raise eyebrows as to what exactly government’s actual intentions are.  When President Mugabe, at the 35th independence day celebrations, called an announcement by his Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, to cancel this year’s civil service bonuses ‘disgusting’ it made for a somewhat disjointed government.

 Naturally some pundits were quick to point out that either the president had forgotten a cabinet decision or he was really ‘disgusted’ with his subordinate’s announcement.

The damage control that followed thereafter with the Minister in question apologizing and another saying (almost biblically) that ‘it’s final’ in relation to the the President’s announcement, I am sure a number of public servants were relieved. This despite the fact that these bonuses are eight months or so away.

There are however other factors at play in what some media have referred to as the ‘bonus conundrum’. These include but are not limited to issues to do with the ability of cabinet ministers to either understand the political importance of the civil service to electoral outcomes or even implement policies without bland and unpopular public pronouncements.

The most important factor is that the government, in initially announcing this bonus cancellation, was following the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff Monitored Programme (SMP) which it is currently implementing in order to alleviate Zimbabwe’s debt.  The SMP requires that government trim its salary bill and its own public expenditure greatly  among other key austerity measures.  The expectation is that once this is done, there will be further reduction in government external and domestic debt.  So government probably intended to begin by cutting bonuses as a show of good measure to the IMF.

In the second instance, this measure should not be viewed in isolation.  While the IMF generally pushes neoliberal economic policies predicated on the principle of an unfettered free market, our government has found this model to fit into its own undeclared state capitalism economic policy framework.

 The government wants to be a key material beneficiary , ala carte China, Angola, Ethiopia, of this neo liberal economic paradigm through creating its own businesses and projects. Not necessarily for the direct benefit of the majority poor but in order to distribute the material largesse deriving from public private partnerships among the connected political elite.  Ditto the tragic outcome that is the Chiadzwa diamond extraction and now even the ’mega’ Darwendale Russian mining project.

So essentially there were no noble intentions either on the part of the Finance Minister or the President. In both instances our political leaders were exhibiting a political pragmatism that can only be described as a demonstration of opportunism. That is to say, they wanted to please both the IMF and the civil service with policy pronouncements that in the end are still a long way from becoming a reality.

This leads to my analysis of the civil service response to the announcements.  The initial outcry was almost to be expected together with the political gladiators that immediately pointed to the inefficiency of government. The unions, largely representing the teachers were correct to demand fair play in relation to their members contracts with the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The other important point however is that the civil service now has to take this initial government ambiguity to mean that the months ahead are going to be extremely difficult, with or without bonuses.

 Announcements by the state that they have increased rentals of public servants, the diminishing value of the Premier  (formerly public) Services Medical Aid Society (PSMAS), delays in salary payments, low pensions and the general high cost of living are issues that the civil service must begin to address holistically in the interests of its members and of Zimbabwean society.

 Furthermore there is need for public servants to also measure their own value to the national political economy and leverage it against government’s publicly intended austerity measures.  If there was ever a time for civil servants to be united in negotiating with the government, this would be the best possible time.

It is however critical that in considering further debate on this matter, we do not lose cite of the bigger picture of the national political economy.  This includes placing the plight of civil servants into the context of the economic plight of all Zimbabweans.

We must challenge the pretext of state capitalism as is exhibited and practiced by government through either ZimAsset or ‘mega deals’. This would mean outlining a broader alternative ideological narrative to that of the current government.  This alternative narrative would take into greater account the livelihoods of the country’s citizens and juxtaposes this with an economic framework that discards the neo-liberalism of the IMF and embraces instead a social democratic ideological pretext.

This would mean we would value the work of the public service in a much more symbiotic way with the public work that is to be done to lift the country from its current phase of austerity caused poverty.

With such a framework in place, the civil servants that would be in the health, teaching, immigration, security and administrative services of our society would know that their work is valued beyond their ability to up the numbers in an election contest. Their work would be part of a broader and national people centered plan to uplift the livelihoods of suffering Zimbabweans.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogpsot.com)