Christmas was a dull day for many of Zimbabwe’s civil servants who did not receive their December as expected to buy food, gifts or anything else for their households and families.
Earlier promises by the country’s government to pay some of its workers, like teachers, their salaries and end of year bonuses before Christmas, were dashed with an announcement that payments would only be processed on Tuesday, December 29th, while other civil servants like nurses and other government workers, would only be paid on Tuesday, January 5th, 2016.
Richard Gundane, chairman of the Apex Council, which represents government workers, said workers are frustrated by the delays.
“It’s a very unwelcome development,” Gundane said. “A lot of the workers have been speaking out, a lot of the unions have been speaking out, against this.”
Despite their delayed salaries, Gundane said many are still hopeful of getting their promised bonuses, as well.
“We keep on anticipating that there will be a bonus. We have been talking about this in the past two months, we have been talking to government, that they come out clear and clean on the dates when these bonuses are going to be paid.”
But some Zimbabwean economists doubt whether civil servants will get their salaries at all, never mind bonuses, because they say, government is broke.
Independent economic analyst Phillip Chichoni said the company closures or underperforming companies in general are not able to pay their taxes which the government counts on for revenue. He said while a lot of money is circulating in the informal sector, it’s no good for the government as it has not structured a way to collect taxes from it.
“The money which is flowing in the informal market does not belong to the government. It’s citizens’ money from their own bills,” explained Chichoni. “The government can only get money from taxes, so if companies are not making profit, they don’t pay much tax so there is no way the government can raise money without getting tax money.”
As for getting money from the informal market, Chichoni said for now that is a far stretch.
“The problem is that the informal market does not pay taxes.” Chichoni said the government’s only option here is to “find a way to tax the informal market.”
Another independent economic commentator, Rejoice Ngwenya, said the government has to find a way to generate money to pay employees and better run its affairs, in addition to collecting taxes.
“We should generate enough revenue for this government to sustain itself,” said Ngwenya. “A $4 billion budget that was done by [Finance Minister Patrick] Chinamasa a month ago, $3.8-billion was going to civil servants but the money was not there, it was a theoretical budget. It shows how clueless this regime is,” Ngwenya said.
Company closures as well as government and private company layoffs this year have left an estimated 85 percent of the population unemployed, though government argues its just 10 percent. With so little coming from the traditional sources of revenue, economists are pushing for government to do more to alleviate the crisis, which they say could persist for several years to come.
Ngwenya argued the key to resolving the crisis, from the general economy to paying worker salaries, is in the policies that the government needs to implement, given the fact that options such as borrowing money from creditors or printing money, are off the table.
“The problem is not the government’s inability to attract money, the problem is in the inability of this government to create policies that are conducive to create a civilized monetary environment,” said Ngwenya.
Whatever the argument or reason for government’s inability to pay its workers, many workers are holding their breath, as they await Tuesday’s stated pay date, hoping to have cash in hand to at least celebrate the new year.