THE announcement by Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa that plans are afoot to cut the Government’s wage bill is most welcome. The minister revealed that the State was spending 92 percent of its income on recurrent expenditure, an unsustainable situation which he says calls for a frank discussion among stakeholders to address the problem.
The minister indicated that details could not be released as the process to reduce the wage bill was still in its infancy.
We, therefore, hope that the forum is open to suggestions from all interested parties on what can be done and how.
We feel that this is a good place to start, but more needs to be done. First of all we would like to stress that there is need to cure the disease and not just the symptoms.
Is the percentage of the expenditure on wages merely an indication of a bloated civil service or is it also a reflection of severely depleted income levels?
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority Commissioner General Gershem Pasi has previously pointed to issues like the Zimbabwe Republic Police retaining all fines collected for various offences yet still drawing resources from the fiscus as some of the challenges contributing to the strain on State coffers. This is just one example and there are other agencies in the same situation.
We also have parastatals and State-owned enterprises that are bleeding the economy instead of contributing to national well-being. Exposes in the media led by The Herald in 2014 showed gross ineptitude and corruption as the main cancers in these organisations.
Why are the people heading these institutions being allowed to continue drawing huge salaries in return for failing the nation?
We, therefore, submit that the reduction of the wage bill should not be viewed as an end in itself, but as part of a broader clean-up operation to rid the nation of deadwood. The civil service should develop a service culture that is client oriented to cut on bureaucracy and corruption.
Focus should be on increasing efficiency through rationalisation and full utilisation of available resources. For example, we believe that where Government departments have offices in the same building, as is the norm in most places, they should share human resources for general staff like orderlies, messengers and drivers.
There should also be a centralised system for moving such staff easily between ministries and departments based on current demands in a given area.
Like many other struggling institutions, many Government departments are top heavy with paper pushers. Because of the existence of many people with high-sounding titles, most processes involving Government departments are usually painfully slow as papers are shifted from one office to the next at a snail’s pace.
Rationalisation of such posts would positively impact on the wage bill since people with the highest staff costs and lowest service deliverables would be reduced or totally eliminated.
Then there is the question of the actual civil service staff complement. The nation was led to believe that allegations of ghost workers resulted in an audit of staffing levels a couple of years back. Yet the results of that audit have never been publicised thus raising more questions on the matter.
We raise these points in addition to constitutional matters such as the country’s size of Parliament and other institutions which require State funding. These are burdens which we must deal with. We need to learn to live within our means and still have resources for national development.
We hope that frank discussions called for by Minister Chinamasa will happen and that the matters that we raise above will be brought to the table. It is only by being honest with ourselves that we can address the problems, find real solutions and move into the future as a stronger nation.