PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe could have been forced to eat humble pie by a stubborn economy that continues to wilt under the weight of poor policies and a poisoned political environment.
news in depth BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Mugabe, who was re-elected in disputed elections in 2013, promised to create 2,2 million jobs before the 2018 polls.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa early last year announced that government would suspend the traditional 13th cheque to civil servants for two years.
But a few days later while officiating at the national independence celebrations and after coming face-to-face with poorly paid soldiers on a rainy day, Mugabe reversed Chinamasa’s pronouncement.
“I want to make it clear that reports in newspapers that government has suspended bonuses is not government policy. Cabinet never approved that,” Mugabe said. “We say that it is disgusting to us and it will never ever be implemented at all. So your bonuses will come to you.”
To many people, Chinamasa’s political epitaph had been written, but Mugabe did nothing after that and life went back to normal.
Now, in his 2016 mid-term budget review statement last week, Chinamasa brought back the poisoned chalice but Mugabe is yet to respond. In the latest proposals, Chinamasa actually went further, announcing a tax on allowances, a 25 000 cull of the government workforce as well as the bonus suspension, among other strict measures.
Chinamasa is trying to appease restive multi-lateral institutions who continue to watch developments in Zimbabwe with keen interest after providing Harare with a window of opportunity to access budgetary support, but only if certain targets are met.
Political analyst and academic Ibbo Mandaza said the economy had pushed Mugabe into a corner and left the Zanu PF leader with no option.
“Chinamasa would not have done this without Mugabe’s approval. Mugabe cannot reverse this because things are so bad he has been left with no option. It is as simple as that,” Mandaza said.
Former finance minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Tendai Biti urged workers to take government to court.
“Politically, Mugabe is finished. Mugabe has long left Mugabe. There is no leader to talk about because he does not even understand what is going on,” said Biti.
He said Chinamasa had shown little understanding of the political economics around civil servants and was at his wits end on how to deal with the problems facing Zimbabwe.
“It is cruel to take away the bonuses and tax civil servants’ allowances. Even in the darkest of times during the inclusive government, we religiously paid bonuses because we understood the economics of paying the 13th cheque.
“As a Finance minister, Chinamasa should understand that civil servants are paid very little and the money they are paid as bonuses quickly comes back into the government coffers through taxes because they will spend it in Christmas gifts and school uniforms for their children,” said Biti.
The former Finance minister instead urged Chinamasa to “remove ghost workers first”. Critics accused Mugabe’s government of stuffing the civil service with party youths just after assuming absolute power in 2013 as a way of appreciating their role in the electoral shenanigans earlier that year.
It remains to be seen if Mugabe is willing to create an angry workforce just under two years before what is likely to be his last stab at the presidency after 36 years in power.