CIVIL servants are on industrial action. Besides a few blacklegs the strike seems to be universal. Many a time strikes are premised on greed but this cannot be said of the present civil servants’ strike.
When workers believe they are producing a lot but their employer is unwilling to share, they usually go on strike to demand higher wages. In most cases the workers lack a global picture of their company’s performance. They may not be aware, for example, of the many costs the company incurs in procuring raw materials or transporting products to the market. They might even fail to appreciate the huge impact simple overheads have on the bottom line.
Unlike in industry where workers can quantify with a great deal of accuracy what they produce, civil servants provide services which are difficult to measure. But without them government cannot function. This is why it is rare for them to ever, as a whole group, go on strike.
A lot is amiss in the civil service but few appreciate the humiliation that people feel when they are as grossly underpaid as are our public servants. For the record Harare City Council pays its street sweepers higher wages than government pays its middle managers. The young men who make bricks in Manyame river near St Mary’s township in Chitungwiza make more money than civil servants. Flea market stalls at Mupendzanamo in Mbare are more rewarding than the air-conditioned offices in Mukwati Building.
Without undermining the dignity of the street sweeper, the brick maker and the vendor, natural justice demands that remuneration be determined by certain standards which are placed in a continuum according to the contribution they make to the wellbeing of the employer. Hence the permanent secretary, who in Zimbabwe generally holds a doctorate and is the chief executive of his or her ministry naturally should be paid a higher wage than the humble worker who makes his tea.
One thing outstanding about the current action is that the civil servants are not angry or bitter; they are just being sane. They are not throwing stones; they are just putting their payslips on the table for all to see.
The response from the powers that be was predictable – there is no money to up your salaries! And to add insult to injury, a ridiculous amount was announced as the increment commencing only in April.
But can we put the civil servants’ strike in another perspective?
A year ago the government of national unity was inaugurated. We all remember the swearing ceremony at State House, but how many remember what happened immediately afterwards? I will remind you: the new ministers made a bee-line for the CMED premises to grab their limousines. There was one notable exception: David Coltart didn’t.
Besides the Mercs, the ministers also got luxurious off-roaders, which were either Prados or Land Cruisers and a further third car. All put together the vehicles each minister got were worth about
US$150 000 putting to rest the lame excuse that there is no money to increase the public servants’ salaries.
There is no doubt the ministers deserve all these and other perquisites such as housing allowances and chauffeurs (or do they?). But look at the sheer gap between what the ministers draw from the fiscus and what their servants in the ministries get! Taking home US$150 after four weeks of toil while your boss raked in a thousand times more at a go is good reason for anger.
During Kamuzu Banda’s reign in Malawi, the old ogre only allowed a Land Rover each for his ministers and parliamentarians. His reasoning was that there was no justification for a people’s servant to live in the lap of luxury while his constituency wallowed in abject poverty. Examples such as this put into proper perspective our leadership’s profligacy and their hypocrisy when dealing with lesser mortals such as those who make their government work.
It is not only this manifestly selfish depravity on the part of our leadership which has spurred the present crisis but also the corruption which has made them grow richer and richer every day while their subjects have become poorer and poorer. The civil servants know their bosses’ lifestyles, they know how many farms they own, they know how many houses they have and how many other cars they have accumulated in their dubious business deals. People who were living in extreme penury only recently have suddenly become contenders for space in Forbes Magazine. You can tell by their massive midriffs and the concertinos of chins that now decorate their necks.
This week it has been reported that a huge consignment of diamonds has gone missing. The civil servants know their value and who is going to benefit from that heist. It is not the nation at large but a select few members of a criminal gang that resides in our corridors of power.
The heart of the matter of all this is misgovernance! Our government is not functional; it has been in a state of decay since the turn of the century, after having stagnated in the 1990s. Our civil service was turned during those years of decay and stagnation from a professional workforce into mules who have been used to administer decisions meant to entrench a decadent regime rather than uplift their own wellbeing. Now instead of the smart pin-stripe-suit-clad, briefcase-wielding young urban professional we have bribe-taking, basket-carrying vendors in government corridors. Only a free and fair internationally supervised election will put an effective government in place and the sooner this is done the better.