President Robert Mugabe yesterday revealed the highest level of confusion within his government when he declared that civil servants will be paid their bonuses, barely a week after Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced the suspension of the 13th cheque.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
Mugabe made the surprise pronouncement at the 35th Independence Day celebrations at the National Sports Stadium in Harare where he also, for the first time, responded to the xenophobia attacks in South Africa.
He expressed “disgust” over the suspension of the bonuses, claiming he had never been consulted about it nor had Cabinet ever discussed the matter.
Several thousand people braved the driving rains to attend the celebrations, but the 91- year-old leader’s entire speech was inaudible to most of those present due to a poor sound system.
Expressions of uneasiness and embarrassment could be read on the faces of senior officials present, including the First Lady, Vice- Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, service chiefs and Cabinet ministers over the failing sound system.
Mugabe said what Chinamasa did (announcing bonus suspension) was so “disgusting” as it was never brought to him, the Cabinet or to any of his Vice-Presidents for approval.
“I want to make it clear that the report which was in the newspapers that bonuses were being withdrawn is not government policy,” said Mugabe.
“The Cabinet did not approve that at all and the Presidency never was consulted on the matter. We were never consulted the three of us, that is myself and the two Vice-Presidents and we say that is disgusting to us and it will never be implemented at all.”
He said contrary to Chinamasa, civil servants would be paid their bonuses.
“So let the civil servants not be down hearted; it will not happen. The rules are that when government bestows benefits to all civil servants, those benefits cannot be withdrawn because it is a right,” Mugabe said.
“That is there in the rules governing the handling of public servants when they are given a benefit. We cannot reverse it at all. It has become their right and that is what we standby. So your bonuses will come to you.”
On Monday Chinamasa, flanked by Information minister Jonathan Moyo, announced that the failing economy had prompted government to scrap bonuses for the next two years.
There were a lot of mixed feelings over the pronouncements, with some analysts and stakeholders saying such a move would demoralise the public service while on the other hand, some Cabinet ministers and analysts backed the Finance minister.
Turning to the xenophobia in South Africa, Mugabe said the violence should be condemned.
“I would want to express our sense of disgust and shock as we abhor the incident that happened in Durban where some five or six Africans were burnt to death deliberately by some members of the South African Zulu community,” said Mugabe who had increasingly came under fire for not condemning the attacks in his capacity as Sadc and AU chair.
“The act of treating other Africans in that horrible way can never be condoned by anyone, whether these are followers of the Zulu king Zwelithini or the followers of some other misled members of the South African community.
“We say on our own behalf and on behalf of Sadc and indeed the African Union that that must never happen again in South Africa or any other country.”
Mugabe said if there were issues that needed to be addressed, they should be handled in a civilised manner and not as was happening in South Africa.
He also said his government had made a lot of achievements in the past 35 years despite the recurring economic downturn that had affected many people.
Mugabe conceded that his government was facing challenges in funding developmental programmes as the implementation of the 2014 budget was experiencing increased pressures against low revenue collections.
He also highlighted the need to scrutinise the role and performance of different government parastatals which have continued to gobble millions of dollars without any returns.
Concerning the much talked about diamond consolidation process, Mugabe revealed that the government would get a 50% equity with all the other investors sharing the remaining 50%.
That approach has been criticised on the grounds that it will be difficult for the government to be both the major investor as well as the promoter of fairness among different stakeholders, including the communities from where the minerals were being extracted and to ensure transparency and accountability.
Mugabe said as the country looked ahead to the next agricultural season, already the government had acquired a vast array of agricultural equipment and tractors from Brazil which would be used by smallholder farmers on a cost recovery basis in a programme believed to be the largest mechanisation programme so far.