HARARE – In yet another glaring example of the fatal chaos, confusion and tensions afflicting President Robert Mugabe’s beleaguered government, the 91-year-old publicly rebuked two of his hardest-working ministers yesterday, emphatically denying that the State had scrapped bonus payments to civil servants in the next two years.
This came a mere week after prudent Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, accompanied by his Information counterpart Jonathan Moyo, had announced at a media briefing in Harare that Mugabe’s broke government would not pay bonuses to civil servants this year and next year — a move that was to be reviewed in 2017, ahead of the country’s national elections slated for 2018.
But speaking at the National Sports Stadium yesterday, the nonagenarian flatly denied that the government had made such a decision, leaving Chinamasa and Moyo with egg on their faces — and notwithstanding the fact that the government is flat broke as the economy continues to tank and the ruling Zanu PF implodes inexorably.
“I want to make it clear that the report which was in the newspaper (presumably The Herald), that bonuses were being withdrawn is not govt policy,” Mugabe told the crowd gathered at the stadium to commemorate Independence Day.
“The Cabinet did not approve that at all. And the presidency never, never was consulted on the matter. We were never consulted the three of us, that is myself and the vice presidents.
“And we say that is disgusting to us, and it will never, never be implemented at all. So let the civil servants not be down-hearted. That will not happen,” Mugabe added.
Chinamasa has revealed the stark facts that Zimbabwe spends most of its budget — about 82 percent of the fiscus — on salary payments and that the government still owes some of its workers their 2014 bonuses.
“Government has decided to suspend bonus payments to the civil servants in 2015 and 2016, and the situation will be reviewed in 2017 in the event that we are able to build enough capacity,” Chinamasa said on Monday while announcing the bonus suspensions.
Tellingly too, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has also advised both the public and private sectors against awarding salary increases this year, as the economy continues to plummet precipitously.
Lickspittle State media, that operate as the government’s and Zanu PF’s mouthpieces, also moved quickly to endorse the bonus suspensions, even claiming that the move had been hailed by economists and analysts.
But Mugabe said the government could never scrap such a benefit for public sector workers.
“The rules are that when government bestows a benefit on civil servants, that benefit cannot be withdrawn because it has become a right that is there in the rules, in our rules governing the handling of public servants.
“When they are given a benefit, we cannot reverse it at all, it has become their right.
“That is what we stand by. So your bonuses will come to you,” Mugabe told the cheering crowds.
As usual, the nonagenarian also hit out at Western governments which have criticised Zimbabwe for its chaotic land reforms and human rights abuses — blaming “climate change” and not policy shortcomings for food shortages staring a third of the nation in the face.
Yesterday’s celebrations also featured the usual military displays, the seemingly mandatory fly-past by the Air Force and performances by youth groups.
Analysts said yesterday that Mugabe’s repudiation of Chinamasa’s pronouncement on public sector bonuses belied the chaos and ugly infighting within Zanu PF, as well as the fact that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had condemned the decision.
“It was very easy for Zanu PF to rig the harmonised elections that were held on July 31, 2013 but most certainly, the illegitimate regime that was formed after that electoral farce will never be able to rig the economy.
“The Zanu PF regime is now totally bankrupt and the economy remains domiciled in a permanent comatose state. The chickens are coming home to roost,” MDC spokesman Obert Gutu said when the bonus suspensions were announced.
Meanwhile, opposition parties said there was nothing to celebrate on Independence Day given the worsening political and economic crises in the country.
Speaking at a joint Press conference in Harare on Friday, opposition leaders — who included MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai, Simba Makoni of Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD), National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) representative Madock Chivasa and his Zapu counterpart Mjobisa Noku — said the sad reality in the country was that Zimbabweans were living in “a sorry state” and now needed to engage in a new struggle to realise their liberties that remained a pipedream.
“You look at all those millions on the street-side in our cities, towns and villages vending to fend for a living for their families and you ask yourself, is this real independence?
“Did we fight for the freedom to flee our country and seek asylum in the Diaspora? Did we fight for the freedom to flee our country to become victims of xenophobic attacks in neighbouring countries?” the opposition said.
Yesterday’s independence celebrations came as many Zimbabweans faced a titanic struggle to survive.
At least 80 percent of the country’s 13 million people live well below the poverty line, and the worsening economic climate and intensifying liquidity crunch is plunging many more Zimbabweans deeper into poverty and misery.