Godfrey Marawanyika/Chris Goko
AT a time when Zimbabwe requires further public expenditure reductions, President Robert Mugabe’s enlarged cabinet announced last week achieved the opposite, with five new ministers and a raft of other government officials gobbling up b
illions of dollars in salaries and perks.
Weighing in at 41 ministers — 30 portfolio ministers, one minister without portfolio and 10 resident ministers, plus 18 deputy ministers — the “development” cabinet is supervised by a president and two vice presidents.
While the man in charge of Zimbabwe’s economic turnaround, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, has repeatedly called for expenditure cuts, Mugabe has evidently turned a deaf ear by creating needless departments in what commentators see as a bid to extend his network of patronage.
By splitting some ministries and adding others, the Zimbabwean leader confirmed a long-held view that political considerations take precedence over economic sense.
The cabinet has, in its ranks, a minister of Public and Interactive Affairs and sees the return of Emmerson Mnangagwa as Rural Housing and Social Amenities minister — whatever that is!
Former Finance and Economic Development minister Chris Kuruneri’s ministry has been spilt into two portfolios — that of Finance and Economic Development, headed by Herbert Murerwa and Rugare Gumbo respectively.
Mugabe, widely seen as preoccupied with surrounding himself with pliant helpers ahead of his 2008 exit, also split Ignatius Chombo’s Public Works and National Housing ministry, creating an off-shoot for the embattled Mnangagwa.
The logic, observers say, of having an interactive ministry when the country has a fully fledged Information and Publicity Ministry is confusing.
Not only is Interactive minister Chen Chimutengwende’s brief unclear, it is also not known in the current geo-political set-up who he is supposed to interact with given Harare’s many political enemies east and west.
The success of Chimutengwende’s office will only be reflected in the end on Zimbabwe’s international isolation, but Mugabe will prove a stumbling block with his increasing anti-West broadsides and regime-change paranoia.
There is also clear duplication of roles in the creation of two economic ministries; how Gumbo’s economic development portfolio will complement Murerwa’s finance office is a mystery.
While Chombo’s Local Government ministry failed to deliver over the last five years largely because of insufficient funds to develop housing and general infrastructure, it remains to be seen how Mnangagwa’s Rural Housing ministry will make a difference.
It is common cause that the incoming ministers and their deputies will be showered with new Mercedes-Benz vehicles and four-wheel-drive Toyota Prados, ranging in price from $500 million to nearly a billion dollars.
Apart from luxury vehicles and perks, the ministers are entitled to aides and other security personnel, yet Zimbabwe has more urgent funding needs such as food and energy imports.
The Zimbabwe Independent reported last week that close to $5 trillion meant for capital expenditure was to be diverted towards food imports, mainly the staple maize, but the president sees it fit to accommodate Chimutengwende and Mnangagwa, among others, with cabinet posts.
A senior banking economist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision to enlarge the cabinet would have a negative effect on expenditure.
“The enlarged cabinet flies in the face of the RBZ which has been trying to cut down expenditure.
“What it means is that the new cabinet will now have new administrative staff, who will need other resources and they will have to spend more,” he said.
He said the decision to increase the cabinet was poorly timed since the International Monetary Fund will be in the country in a fortnight.
The Bretton Woods institution has often criticised government’s spending and the latest profligacy will simply exacerbate the current impasse, making Gono’s job of re-engaging the Washington lender all but impossible.
Zimbabwe is six years into the economic doldrums, with inflation running at nearly 123%, and is continually wracked by fuel and power shortages linked to foreign currency shortages.
Although Gono has managed to tame the inflation spiral, from a peak of 622% about 18 months ago, he was forced to eat humble pie last week when he revised the year-end target from 20-50% to about 80%.
The revision, Gono told banking and industry chiefs, took into account impending grain imports in the wake of a drought.
Independent economist John Robertson ruled out any immediate change of fortunes for the country until there was a policy shift.
“Quite honestly, I don’t think the cabinet will achieve anything because people are being rewarded for their loyalty to Mugabe and the party,” he said.
“A lot of money was availed to parastatals and more will be needed for food imports. The Chinese are taking us for a ride. What is now needed is investment and not rhetoric,” Robertson said.
Godfrey Marawanyika/Chris Goko