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AS the government ponders massive retrenchments to cut its huge bill, President Robert Mugabe has been challenged to look at his costly cabinet which is said to be bigger than countries such as South Africa that have larger populations and better performing economies.
Under the spotlight too, is the bill Mugabe personally loads on the overwhelmed exchequer.
The Zanu PF leader has continued to spend millions of dollars travelling the world, claiming the bill is the necessary price Zimbabwe pays for the privilege and honour of him chairing the AU and SADC.
Mugabe has admitted that cabinet appointments take into account regional balance as well as tribal and factional considerations in his divided Zanu PF party, resulting in a bloated and costly administration as ministers and deputies have huge perks that include fleets of expensive vehicles.
The veteran leader has two deputies and also assigns ministers to provinces that have provincial administrators. Lately, he has introduced ministers for the Harare and Bulawayo ‘metros’ in what was seen as an attempt to undermine the opposition dominated local authorities there.
But with Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa saying he is increasingly finding it hard to pay the government’s 500,000-plus workforce, the government has been forced to act.
Last week Chinamasa said cabinet had agreed that the government wage bill must be reduced from the current 80 percent of revenue to less than 40 percent, raising the prospect of massive retrenchments.
“This effectively means that at least 200,000 civil servants will soon be laid off and dumped on the job market,” said opposition MDC-T spokesman Obert Gutu in a statement.
“Things have gone horribly wrong in Zimbabwe,” he added.
Teachers, who comprise the biggest chunk of the civil service, were among the first groups to react.
Targeting poorly paid employees would not help address the problem, they warned.
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association chief executive Sifiso Ndlovu said the wage bill cut should target all civil service structures.
“When cutting the wage bill, they should look at the entire size of Government; that is the ministers, the high-ranking officials and the expenditure they gobble in Government.
“The idea of firing a low-ranking worker such as a teacher, for example, in order to cut the wage bill does not read well.
“They should also look at sectors in Government that are unnecessarily duplicating.”
College Lecturers’ Association president David Dzatsunga: “There are other issues besides civil servants’ salaries, and these are contributing to the huge wage bill.
“So, the issues should be brought before the negotiating council for discussion.”
In a bid to calm the fears, labour minister Prisca Mupfumira claimed that government could achieve Chinamasa’s target of cutting the wage bill in half without retrenchments.
“When we are talking about reducing the wage bill, we are not talking about retrenching or firing people,” Mupfumira told the government-controlled Sunday Mail.
“We are looking at cost-cutting; there is a distinction. The process that is underway, therefore, is not to fire people, but cutting on expenditure.
“As Government, we also want to make it clear that we will not act in the manner some companies have by firing workers haphazardly.”
She added: “We will not do that. No one will be fired.
“In fact, we are actually in the process of expediting the Labour Act (amendments) so that we protect our workers and make sure retrenchments are done orderly without firing people randomly.
“We have been on this exercise for the past two months and what we are doing is very clear. We are looking at ways of being efficient; increasing productivity.
“This is work in progress and I cannot state the recommendations because these will be presented before Cabinet, which will then discuss these findings.
“The report will be out soon, and we will make all the recommendations public. source-newzimbabwe