Eric Bloch Column:The Blame-Biti game ill-advised

Eric Bloch

THE national sport with the greatest following is undoubtedly the Blame-Biti game.  Politicians, workers in commerce and industry and in other economic sectors are all involved, but the most ardent of the game’s supporters are those in the public service.  Scathing, castigatory and virulent criticisms of Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, are now common.
Indisputably, those most vocal are government employees (usually known as the public service or civil service, notwithstanding that many of them are disdainfully dismissive of the public’s interests, and all too many are unaware of the term “civil”). They are continuously blame Biti for not giving them substantive salary increases.  Incontrovertibly, most of them are seriously underpaid, receiving salaries significantly below the poverty datum line (PDL) –– the minimum required for the health and wellbeing of their families and dependants.
However, in their pursuit of the Blame-Biti game, they completely disregard that their opponent is severely constrained in meeting their income demands; for he cannot pay that which he does not have.  Football and rugby cannot be played without a ball, cricket cannot be played without wickets; similarly public service salaries cannot be increased without money, or equivalent alternative resources.  Biti’s ministry is devoid of the required financial resources; the funds received are used for other purposes, many of which are of even greater importance to Zimbabwe than the increase of incomes of civil servants.
No matter how convincingly civil servants are leading contestants in the Blame-Biti game, there are many other exceptionally adept players.  The majority of Zimbabweans blame Biti for his alleged failure to reverse the high costs of living that Zimbabweans are experiencing.  In so doing, they disregard the skills that he successfully applied in almost totally halting the hyperinflation that afflicted them in 2008.  At that time, prices rose so rapidly they exceeded the highest levels of inflation ever experienced anywhere in the world.  Prices were soaring upwards at such a pace that, by November 2008, they were rising between the time of entry into a shop to reaching the cashier’s desk.
Within a few months of Biti becoming Finance minister, inflation had declined to single digit levels.  However, that has not satisfied Biti’s opponents, for they contend he should have brought about deflation.  That he could not bring about deflation without other teammates playing their role is contemptuously ignored.
Other Biti-bashers include co-ministers in the government of so-called “national unity”.  They seek to win the game by deploring his failure to meet their demands for funding education, healthcare and other services, and for long overdue infrastructural rehabilitation, refurbishment, and development. Although none can play football without the ball, they believe Biti should pay salaries without having the money.
Others blame Biti by virtually condemning him for the excessive expenditures of his ministerial colleagues on endless international trips, luxurious new motorcades and other unnecessary government spending. In criticising him for the profligacy of others, they ignore the extent to which his hands are tied to ensure that he cannot control the spendthrifts; they also ignore his recurrent calls for an end to unnecessary expenditure.
Although many play the Blame-Biti game by identifying and using expenditures which he should incur and fails to, and those which should not be incurred but which his colleagues do, there are some who effectively identify Biti’s actions of commission and omission –– albeit they are fairly few.  Foremost of such actions is his imposition of oppressive taxation on below-PDL incomes of many Zimbabweans taxpayers. This intensifies workers’ suffering and distress.
Their expenditures within the economy are consequently more constrained to the prejudice of the viability of commerce and industry. There is thus minimisation of inflows of value added tax, customs duties and surtax, and excise duties, into the emaciated national treasury.
Thus those that play the Blame-Biti game do so by blaming him for actions he has had to take, for others which he cannot take without the requisite funds, and for the profligate misdeeds of others. A few play the game more legitimately by confining the blame to his actions or inactions.

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