By Sij Ncube
HARARE, January 12 – ZIMBABWE’S civil servants have finally got their December salaries but analysts are adamant late payments blamed on severe cash crunch will continue in 2016 as long as the country does not have a clear cut turnaround economic strategy to enable a functional productive sector.
Most public workers were paid last Friday after enduring a bleak festive season due to failure by President Robert Mugabe’s government to pay them their December salaries on time but there are no indications how the same government intends to raise funds to meet salaries in 2016.
In February last year, Mugabe promised them bonuses before the festive seasons but has to date failed to honour his pledge as the government is technically broke.
Pensioners have been in the same predicament in the past year. They were also finally paid last Friday after spending days in long winding queues at various banks.
While Mugabe and his family were living it up on holiday in the Far East, it was left to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to scrounge around for funds to pay the restless civil servants who are reportedly itching for a fight over non-payment of bonuses.
But be that as it may, analysts say the late pays are a temporary relief, pointing out it would be more of the same in 2016 as Mugabe’s administration battles to mop up funds to pay its bloated civil service.
Reports have been awash the government intends pushing the ministry of home affairs through the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Office of the Registrar General to contribute towards the funding of salaries for public workers.
The police, through spot fines against motorists, are reportedly raking in about $7 million a year while the registrar, for instance, collects $120 000 a day through passport application fees and similar documents.
Also in a bid to maximise revenue collection, the ministry of finance has come up with measures to force travellers, cross-border traders and other importers to coffer up at the borders.
Trust Matselele, a South African-based Zimbabwean financial journalist-cum political analyst, said civil servants should not expect changes in their plight, particularly improvement in the delays in paying their salaries.
“As the country does not have a functioning productive sector, it will surely be prone to fragility and that is the case with Zimbabwe,” said Matselele, noting that former industries and factories are now warehouses.
“The country largely depends on hand-outs and imports from tooth-picks to toothbrush, what more could you expect in such a dysfunctional economy, for me 2016 is more of the same woes we saw in 2015,” he added.
But strangely, prosperity gospel “prophets” have predicted a prosperous 2016 for the Mugabe administration despite policy inconsistencies. For instance, the administration has been forced to redraw its indigenisation law after conflicting pronouncement from members of the cabinet.
Takura Zhangazha, a Harare-based political blogger and analyst, says if by hook or crook the economy improves in 2016, it is likely to benefit the politically connected at the expense of the generality of the suffering population.
“So if one was to gaze into Zimbabwe’s economic horizon, the probable reality for 2016 is that if the economy improves, it will improve for the politically connected. It will be a neo-liberal economic template characterized by political patronage and cementing of elite but primitive accumulation of the few,” said Zhangazha.
Dumisani Nkomo, a Bulawayo-based political analyst who doubles up as the spokesperson for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, predicts a hard year for citizens, pointing out an impending drought likely to spark food shortages and a broke government resulting in failure to pay civil servants.
“There may be a lot of industrial action this year but ZANU PF will continue to implode as Mugabe gets older and there will be moves towards a broad progressive alliance of opposition parties,” said Nkomo.
Gladys Hlatywayo, another political analyst based in Harare, chipped in saying despite last week’s late payments, there is no sign that the situation will get better.
“This is just the beginning. We have seen government calling for prayers through the office of the Acting President and given how this government has conducted itself in the past, this is a clear sign of desperation. The Acting President can do the economy better by stopping the abuse of tax payers’ money to live large in a hotel. In addition, citizen action and government clampdown of the same have been on the increase. All indications are signalling difficult times ahead,” said Hlatywayo.
In the meantime, civil servants wait with anticipation to see if there will eventually get the promised 13th cheque.