Editorial Comment: Govt commitment to austerity welcome

The decision to suspend purchase of condition-of-service vehicles for ministers announced on Friday should leave no doubt about Government’s commitment to implementing austerity measures. Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube announced the cost-cutting move as an addition to other measures Government has already taken to contain spending to reduce the budget deficit.

It is everyone’s duty to complement Government’s efforts to ensure the austerity measures being undertaken to contain the budget deficit are successful. The latest move on ministers’ vehicles is in line with Prof Ncube’s 2019 National Budget announced in November, which he titled “Austerity for Prosperity”.

Since the National Budget announcement, we have seen Government doing away with unnecessary spending on luxuries that can wait for another day.

The salaries of the President, his deputies, ministers and senior Government officials have been cut by at least five percent and there are plans to reduce the size of foreign embassies. Foreign trips have been heavily curtailed and delegations targeted for maximum impact.

Well-meaning Zimbabweans must have applauded Prof Ncube when he announced the new measure concerning the suspension of purchase of the service vehicles for the ministers.

The message should be very clear to everyone — when Government talks about tightening the belt, it means business and leading by example.

By accepting to stay the delivering of their service vehicles, the ministers have also shown that they are in sync with the vision being expounded by President Mnangagwa — that we must all postpone expenditures where cuts can be made.

Cutting expenditure is one of the measures to deal with a public sector debt. Budget deficits are known to increase the public sector debt, thereby affecting the national debt as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product.

The austerity measures being undertaken should ensure that Government spends within its budget.

It has been a major concern of creditors that Zimbabwe does not have the capacity to repay its debts, and this has been mainly caused by Government’s failure to live within its means.

When a country has a high budget deficit, its risk also increases, and development partners start to lose confidence. No investor wants to bring their money in a country that faces a huge budget deficit. Eliminating the budget deficit means Government can invest its revenues in social services.

Prof Ncube is spot on when he takes such measures which decrease spending by cutting out non-essentials or doing away with other expenses for now.

The consequences of doing that are always in favour of increased economic growth, and that is why this noble exercise should be supported by everyone, including those in the opposition.

Zanu-PF Members of Parliament recently announced that they would not take delivery of their luxury vehicles, telling Prof Ncube to direct the funds to pressing issues such as hospital drugs and fuel.

The reaction from the MDC-Alliance and other opposition parties was cynical, that Zanu-PF was playing to the gallery, exposing them for lack of appreciation of what austerity means.

Those who do not support the austerity measures being undertaken by Government are obviously not looking at the long-term prosperity of Zimbabwe.

For instance, ministers’ vehicles gobble a substantial sum, considering that Cabinet ministers are usually given an executive car and two off-road vehicles as part of their condition of service. Deputy ministers are entitled to an executive car and one off-roader.

The bill becomes considerable when the 21 Cabinet ministers, 14 deputy ministers and nine Ministers of State are considered for the vehicles.

The announcement by Minister Ncube should also help civil servants in their negotiations over salaries with Government, to ensure that their demands do not undermine the overall national effort to contain the budget deficit. The message is that we are in this together; we sink or swim together. We all must make a sacrifice for the long-term good.