By Sij Ncube
HARARE, August 4, 2015 – THE Zanu (PF) administration has finally admitted to instituting a staff audit of its bloated civil service in what critics view as a major volte face in the wake of a severe liquidity crunch threatening government operations in a comatose economy.
The audit, which has so-far unearthed ghost-workers in the education sector, comes at a time the administration is experiencing diminishing revenues collections.
In desperate attempts to expand its revenue base, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has proposed to increase tax on the importation of second-hand vehicles to 35% from 25%.
In addition, it has banned the importation of second-hand underwear again in attempts to support local textile firms presently listed in critical condition due to the prevailing harsh economic environment.
In the same vein, Chinamasa has proposed taxing projects run by churches as part of measures to grow the coffers of administrations which, to all intents and purposes, is technically broke.
But it is the rolling-out of a staff audit which has spotlighted the administrations’ financial problems, giving credence to assertion the development vindicates the opposition which has been seeking a significant reduction of the civil services estimated at about 300 000 heads.
It has emerged some people where still on the government payroll yet there are domiciled and working overseas. Some schools in rural areas are reportedly having more than one headmaster, a clear sign some civil servants are earning without doing any work.
But critics have been quick to point out that Mugabe’s Zanu(PF) administration ignored a far-reaching staff audit during the days of the coalition government with the MDC formations as it denied the state was packed with ghost workers.
During the tenure of the inclusive government, an audit of the civil service was conducted by a reputable global firm of accountants, Ernest& Young.
At that time, the late Professor Elphas Mukonoweshuro was the Minister of the Public Service but that audit established that there were more than 75 000 ghost workers in the civil service.
“The Zanu PF component of the inclusive government strenuously resisted all attempts to take off these ghost workers from the pay roll; the reason being that these ghost workers were Zanu PF functionaries who had been recruited into the civil service just before the formation of the inclusive government. As the MDC, we are saying that the chickens are now coming home to roost,” said Obert Gutu, the MDC-T spokesperson in an interview with Radio VOP.
Gutu said the bloated civil service has a very huge component of ghost workers who are paid for doing absolutely nothing.
“The Zanu PF regime now has to bite the bullet and remove these ghost workers from the pay roll. Zanu(PF) created the chaos in the first place and so they are obliged to clean up their own mess. It’s their skunk; they have got to skin it.”
Takura Zhangazha, a political blogger and analyst, believes the key argument around the trimming of the civil service relates to reduction of government expenditure as recommended by the International Monetary Fund’s staff monitored programme.
“If there are ghost workers it is more a criminal office than an ideological one as it appears to being presented by current and previous government intentions to reduce the role of the state in our national economy,” said Zhangazha.
Economist Bhekithemba Mhlanga, says while it is clear the audit has unearthed a number of fraudulent activities and malpractices, the jury is still out whether the perpetrators would be charged.
“There appears to be criminality on the part of the regional offices, that is head of services but am not sure about politically inspired criminality in the sense that these ghost workers were created at the behest of Zanu (PF) to achieve Zanu (PF) objectives. I know there are stories of this having been the case in some ministries. Zanu PF may, if guilty of this, use the opportunity to clean up its side of the street,” said Mhlanga.
There are also concerns why the audit has been limited to the education sector.
“The Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police seem not have been caught up as yet -is this coincidence or deliberate?” observed Mhlanga.
But critics observe the staff audit coincides with chaos in the labour market particularly in the private sector which a recent Supreme Court has made it easier for employees to fire staff without benefits.
More than 12 000 employees are estimated to have been dismissed in the past five weeks since the ruling was made in mid-July.