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Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai Voices Displeasure at Civil Service Pay Increases

Luke Tamborinyoka, a spokesman for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said his boss was taken aback that the increase in civil service pay was announced late last week before the Cabinet had passed on it

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has signaled his displeasure at the pay raise granted to civil servants last week in a move that apparently bypassed the Cabinet, commenting that the US$30 increase in base salaries was too little to make a difference to struggling state employees - but would seriously strain the national budget.

A spokesman for Mr. Tsvangirai said the prime minister was taken aback that the boost in pay was announced Friday without full Cabinet approval. Luke Tamborinyoka said Mr. Tsvangirai was concerned that unsustainable public sector pay increases were being approved for short-term political gain when public finances are close to the bone.

Monthly salaries of the lowest-paid workers rose to US$153 from US$128 previously.

“We all know that government does not have money to pay for these salary increases and therefore it is absurd that some parties are happy with this pittance,” said the prime minister's spokesman in a reference to the co-governing ZANU-PF party whose leader, President Robert Mugabe, promised the pay increase some months ago.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, secretary general of Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party, has been resisting the pay hike for months. It was not clear on Monday at what level in the government the increases were approved.

Parliamentary Budget Committee Chairman Paddington Zhanda said Harare will have to pass a supplementary budget to meet the cost “despite its current financial problems."

Chairwoman Tendai Chikowore of the Apex Council, which negotiates for civil servants, said public workers were happy to receive a pay increase no matter how small.

Economic commentator Masimba Kuchera said the government won’t be able to come up with higher monthly salaries. “There are some top government officials spending large sums of money traveling abroad and the state does not have good financial systems for accounting for its revenues, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars,” he noted.

Biti, for whom the pay increase would appear to be a setback, was expected to discuss the salary increases Tuesday with the president and the prime minister.

The International Monetary Fund had urged the government to contain civil service expenses until revenues had significantly improved.