GOVERNMENT will fork out $22 million annually to pay over 3 000 youths President Robert Mugabe wants put back in the civil service, information obtained by The Financial Gazette shows.
The workers, employed under the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, will require at least $1,8 million in salaries, according to a 2015 civil service audit report.
The youths were retrenched last year under government’s civil service rationalisation programme meant to help reduce the State’s huge wage bill. Government spent 91 percent of its $3,5 billion revenues on employment costs in 2016, as it ran up a $1,4 billion budget deficit which it funded through borrowing.
Mugabe has publicly slapped down Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa twice over the past three years, when the Treasury chief tried to cut the civil service wage bill through the suspension of bonus payments, job and allowance cuts.
The 2015 civil service audit had proposed a reduction of the number of youth officers from a ratio of five youth officers per ward to one youth officer per ward, which would have translated to an annual saving of $21,6 million.
But Mugabe recently ordered that the 3 187 youths be put back on the government payroll, saying their retrenchment had not been sanctioned by his Cabinet.
Mugabe, who is facing a decisive election in less than nine months, ordered the reinstatement of the retrenched youths at a ZANU-PF rally in Chinhoyi last week.
The move is certainly going to undermine current efforts by the Civil Service Commission, which has been busy executing a civil service rationalisation programme initiated following the 2015 staff audit.
According to the audit report, which indicates that there had been plans to actually increase the number of youth officers from 3 463 to 5 714, the youth officers could not be located during the audit.
There have been long-standing suspicions that the youths are ruling ZANU-PF party foot soldiers on the government payroll.
“During the head count, the Public Service Commission could not locate the youth officers at their given work stations. However, they later surfaced for the purpose of enumeration … There was no evidence of specific projects youths officers were undertaking especially in urban areas. Information gathered indicates that some of these youth officers might be gainfully employed elsewhere,” said the audit report.
Analysts said the reinstatement of the youths showed Mugabe’s determination to recruit a contingent of youths to help in his campaign in next year’s landmark general elections.
The employment of the youths would be clearly contrary to undertakings of major reforms government had made as it seeks re-engagement with the international community.
The World Bank last month advised that the country needed strong policies such as cutting down on the oversized government workforce to restore fiscal sustainability and increase financial stability.
“Specifically, the size of the public sector primarily reflects a large public sector wage bill … The high public sector wage bill creates rigidity in the budget, and undermines the role of fiscal policy in economic development,” the World Bank has been warning over the years.
Economist John Robertson said Mugabe’s move would only serve to “annoy those who could be helping us”.
“Reengaging the retrenched youths is telling the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that we don’t care about their programme,” he added, referring to an IMF-led Staff Monitored Programme under which government committed to a raft of reforms, including trimming the size of the civil service.
Another economist, Prosper Chitambara, said Mugabe’s gamesmanship ahead of the 2018 general elections would further dent the country’s chances of making the necessary reforms meant to grow the economy.
“I don’t think we will now be able to make the necessary reforms to get us out of the economic quagmire we are in because we don’t have the financial capacity to make the reforms,” said Chitambara.