PUBLIC Service minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro yesterday openly attacked Finance minister Tendai Biti (pictured) and sided with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai over the civil service salary freeze saga, a development signifying the deepening of MDC-T infighting.Mukonoweshuro told journalists in Harare that there was no government policy to freeze civil servants’ salaries. This contradicted assertions by Biti that the government had no “capacity to pay its workers” more than what it was already offering.
Mukonoweshuro’s statement meant that the MDC-T government members have contradicted each other three times on the same issue within a week.
Tsvangirai said as far as he was concerned government had not taken a position on freezing civil servants’ salaries.
“I would like to state unequivocally that the Prime Minister has spoken most definitely and conclusively on the issue of civil service remuneration. There is no government policy to freeze civil servants’ salaries at present,” said Mukonoweshuro. “That is the position of the government which at the moment is cast in stone.”
Mukonoweshuro, whose ministry is in charge of the bulk of civil servants, said Tsvangirai as the leader of government, had the last word on government policy issues and should not be challenged by other members of government.
The policy flip-flop by MDC-T government members started with Biti’s salary freeze announcement on April 15.
On Workers Day, Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, told workers gathered for May Day commemorations that the salary freeze was not government policy. Biti again on Tuesday reiterated that despite Tsvangirai’s statement, government had no money to increase salaries.
Mukonoweshuro yesterday accused Biti of behaving like a “super minister” with a tendency of taking over other ministers’ mandates.
“This government does not operate on the basis of “super ministers who may frequently arrogate to themselves responsibilities that are neither in their present province of competence nor designated mandate,” said Mukonoweshuro, in a clear reference to Biti.
Civil servants have threatened job action if the government fails to increase salaries and conditions, and have said they are giving the government time to negotiate salaries commensurate with the poverty datum line which is at US$492.
The lowest paid civil servant earns around US$165 a month while the highest paid gets US$250.
Mukonoweshuro, who is a close political advisor to Tsvangirai, said cabinet ministers should not intrude into each other’s portfolios as this could cause confusion. “Every ministry receives a subvention from the treasury but that does not mean that the minister in charge of the treasury can make statements with regards to others. There was no such discussion in cabinet over that issue,” he said. Mukonoweshuro said the government had set up three committees to look into the issue of civil servants’ salaries and conditions of service.
He said the Cabinet Committee on Resource Mobilisation chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe was mandated with mobilising additional resources.
“The second process is the setting up of a Cabinet Committee on Cost Drivers chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara. This committee is mandated to look at all areas that routinely trigger rises in the cost of living,” he said.
Mukonoweshuro said the cabinet had set up an Inter-Ministerial Advisory Committee chaired by Welshman Ncube, the Minister of Industry and Commerce, to monitor all aspects of civil service salaries and conditions of service which would report regularly to cabinet.
“This coming week, this committee (chaired by Ncube) will be engaging the leaders of civil service unions to jointly review the situation and make firm recommendations to government,” he said.
Government employs approximately 290 000 civil servants and Mukonoweshuro’s ministry caters for about 192 000 employees who fall under the Public Service Commission and the Health Services Board.
The other 98 000 are members of the defence forces and police and prison officers who are paid through the Security Services Board and are barred from embarking on strikes.