OVER the past 10 years, President Robert Mugabe’s government has established more than a dozen commissions to run various arms of govern
Some of the commissions have taken over the powers of permanent secretaries and cabinet ministers to run parastatals, but little has taken place to turn around the fortunes of the quasi-government companies.
The government has over the years established, among other commissions, the Zimbabwe Electricity Regulatory Authority, the Competition and Tariffs Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Harare Commission and the Media and Information Commission.
But it is the latest commission that has stolen the thunder from the rest. The new commission has rendered most ministers superfluous.
It is the National Incomes and Pricing Commission that took over powers formerly vested in ministers to approve, among others, school fees, tariffs and charges by government departments, state universities, statutory bodies, including statutory professional associations, and companies where the state is a majority or sole shareholder.
All fee increases by non-governmental schools since June 18 were forbidden and have to be approved by the new commission.
Simply put, the commission took over the powers of the secretary for Education, Sport and Culture in approving and setting fees at non-governmental schools. It has also taken over the powers of the ministries of Labour and that of Industry in negotiating with employers and manufacturers salaries and prices of goods and services respectively.
The commission was also charged with the power to make pay awards and fees and price increases of goods and services by the private sector.
The commission was given sweeping powers just over a week ago under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act which fall away in six months unless parliament amends the Commission Act and the Education Act.
All this was done as part of government’s price blitzkrieg that started in July and saw manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers forced to slash prices of goods and services by 50%. The blitz has left many shops empty.
The government also implemented these measures in a bid to bring inflation down since all increases would be less than the current inflation rate.
However, this week analysts said the establishment of commissions was a clear sign of a government in desperation.
They argued that the powers of the National Incomes and Pricing Commission reveal that it was now indeed running the show in Zimbabwe — albeit for only six months.
“We have so many statutory commissions in this country,” argued political analyst Michael Mhike. “Some are for regulating the electricity industry and others to fight company monopolies. The commissions have done little, while others nothing at all for the benefit of the country besides drawing huge sums of money from the fiscus which could have been channelled towards social development.”
Mhike said the introduction of the National Incomes and Pricing Commission with sweeping powers rendered ministries useless.
“The commission is like a mini-cabinet and will run the show in the ministries of Labour, Education and Industry for the next six months using the powers it was granted by the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act,” Mhike added.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Wellington Chibebe said the introduction of the commission was contrary to the spirit of the three protocols under the social contract signed on June 1.
“Indeed, the new commission is too powerful and to us it is against what we signed for on June 1. We never agreed on a salary freeze. In fact the agreement was that salaries would be pegged to the poverty datum line,” Chibebe said.
“The new commission is no longer going to be made up of social partners as agreed during the social contract talks.”
The major objective of the social contract was to stabilise incomes and prices, restore industrial productivity and management of foreign currency.
Three protocols were signed under the social contract — Incomes and Pricing Stabilisation Protocol, Restoration of Production Viability Protocol and the Protocol on Mobilisation, Pricing and Management of Foreign Currency.
But Minister of Industry and International Trade Obert Mpofu sees things differently.
He told The Herald recently that the setting up of an all-powerful National Incomes and Pricing Commission, among others, was aimed at addressing national concerns.
“The measures the government has taken are measures that were agreed to at our (Zanu PF) conference in Goromonzi. They were endorsed by the politburo and adopted by the central committee,” Mpofu said. “Detractors will find that what they were trying to do has come unstuck.”
While Zimbabwe is busy coming up with various commissions to eclipse the powers of government ministries and departments, across the Limpopo, South Africa is consolidating commissions to, among other things, cut costs of running them, lack of administrative and financial independence and removal of duplication of duties.
According to a 260-page report by an ad hoc committee set up by the government of South Africa to be tabled in parliament soon, there was need for a single umbrella body to replace the many commissions in the country.
The committee wants the Commission on Gender Equity, the Public Service Commission, the National Youth Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for the Promotion and the Protection of the Rights of the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, among others, merged.
In what was termed a bold move in the South African media, the committee proposed the establishment of an umbrella body to be called the Commission on Human Rights and Equity, and in addition to improving ease of access, it would also make parliamentary oversight simpler.
It, therefore, remains to be seen whether Zimbabwe will continue to churn out new commissions to the detriment of its flagging economy or adopt what appears to be South Africa’s more rational move to merge commissions and thereby get better value for money.