HomeLocalFrom the Editor's Desk: Civil servants, pawns in political games

From the Editor's Desk: Civil servants, pawns in political games

The paltry remuneration of these hard working people is a huge crisis the country has on its hands. The crisis has to be handled properly. It seems this is not happening. For politicians, civil servants are votes, each one of them, and they do not wish to lose these votes. What this has done is that the crisis has now been politicised. Politicians are exploiting the predicament of civil servants to score cheap political points.

But discerning citizens should be able to see through the deception that politicians have put into play. Last week it was reported that the President, on the urging of the so-called securocrats, had given Finance minister Tendai Biti an ultimatum to increase civil servants’ salaries. Their argument was that the restlessness among the civil service rank and file had now become a threat to national security. They are said to have agreed behind the scenes that if the salaries were not adjusted quickly enough, that is by this month-end, the crisis might spark Egypt-style uprisings that might topple the government.

Many months ago while in Egypt President Mugabe had pledged to increase the salaries on the basis that government coffers were bursting at the seams with diamond money from Chiadzwa. Biti had countered this saying the diamond money was non-existent since his ministry had no clue as to how the diamonds were being processed and auctioned. The proceeds were simply notcoming into the public kitty.
This looked like a huge contradiction between a head of state and a simple minister. When confronted Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu said indeed diamond money was flowing into treasury but documentary evidence produced showed this was not the case.
So where does this leave us?

When a head of state and government orders a mere minister to do something and the minister doesn’t obey him what normally happens? Biti has been accused by some of his colleagues of acting like a “super minister”. But if he can defy a head of state he must indeed be a “super minister” and if the head of state who has been snubbed that way by a minister goes public about it and tells rallies he addresses that he has had an order defied then we begin to doubt whether he is in control.

So, should we go along with the president’s pronouncement and say there is a crisis in government where ministers he swore into office are defying him?

The emotions of civil servants are whipped up now. They have been made to believe that there is money aplenty in the national kitty. Biti’s colleague, Public Service minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro has seemed to corroborate that; he too is reported to have said there is enough money to up the civil servants’ salaries. This makes Biti the real villain.

Mukonoweshuro’s motivation — if he wasn’t misquoted — to go against what his party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said recently that there is no such money being alluded to by the president, is difficult to figure out. Mukonoweshuro is credited for coining the phrase “super minister” in reference to Biti. The two’s relationship in the party is an open secret, Mukonoweshuro envies Biti’s post as secretary-general and has failed to push the younger man from his perch. This might explain his actions. Unfortunately Mukonoweshuro — again this is on the basis that he wasn’t misquoted — seems to have been manipulated. In his bid to undermine Biti he has played into the hands of President Mugabe much to the detriment of his own comrades-in-arms.

Now he will be used as a propaganda tool to push civil servants against his own party. This has already begun to happen. Reports in the public press yesterday said the three parties in the inclusive government had met and “Mukonoweshuro was actually the one leading those meetings”. It is reported he even came up with the figures of US$253 and US$397 as the possible minimum wages for civil servants. By coming out with the figures it is implied that he worked them out from something tangible; he couldn’t just have dreamed them up.

Obviously President Mugabe is already thinking of elections which he wants this year. He wants the civil service vote and it’s quite substantial. The leaders of the civil servants seem to have swallowed the bait. One of them is quoted yesterday saying, “The PM (Tsvangirai) has become so difficult and insensitive to the plight of workers. We don’t know why he is prioritising the suffering of state workers. His behaviour is in sharp contrast with that of President Mugabe who has fought tooth and nail to review the package.”

This is the refrain we are going to be hearing from now until the elections are held. The villain, Biti and his cohort in the MDC who do not wish to alleviate the plight of the public servants are now in a corner. Come June 21, the civil servants want their money or their pound of flesh.
Biti should just come out clean and give us a “bank statement”. He should put it into the public domain so that everyone, particularly civil servants, know the truth. If there is enough money in the bank to reward civil servants increments then he should tell all and sundry why he has been so insensitive to the suffering of the public workers among whom surely are his own kith and kin.If there indeed, as he says, is no money, we would like Mukonoweshuro to tell us how he worked out figures from thin air and the nation would also like to know where President Mugabe is coming from when he says Biti is holding on to money he should give to deserving civil servants.

The political game that is playing out now in which civil servants have become hapless pawns is not moving the country forward. The further it is prolonged the more volatile the situation will become. Talk of industrial action is already gaining currency and what it may spawn is open to conjecture.

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