via Salarygate: Case of the fish rotting from head – DailyNews Live by Mutumwa Mawere 23 MARCH 2014
Zimbabwe will turn 34 years in a few weeks, and no doubt, the independence anniversary will provide yet another opportunity to pause and reflect on the journey travelled and lessons learned, if any, about the true and intended purpose of the State to the extent that government actors have used the period to dominate and to some extent crowd out other voices in the battlefront of ideas.
It can be said that Zimbabwe as a nation-state only exists to the extent that the rule of law exists.
Accordingly, it is trite that a nation-state can exist without the law. The only union that can exist without a Constitution, therefore, is a marriage between two consenting adults.
In marriage, the two parties are left to their own devices to develop the rules of the game and act accordingly. However, nation-states are underpinned by constitutions.
In the next few weeks, Zimbabwe will celebrate the first anniversary of the Constitution and no doubt it will dawn on the people of Zimbabwe that the outcome of the elections and the Constitution send mixed signals about where the country should be heading.
Zimbabwe finds itself gripped by sensationalism about the debate on corruption using as a convenient case study the much publicised unusually high salaries that have been earned by certain targeted persons in institutions that are purportedly-owned by the government.
I use the term “purported” deliberately because, for example, a case has been made that Jonathan Moyo, the minister of Information and Publicity, has locus standi, to act on behalf of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Limited (ZBC) in a constitutional democratic State when in truth and fact, he can only represent the ZBC in a country that is not democratic.
Against this backdrop, it can never be too late to reflect on what is happening in Zimbabwe with respect to the politically manufactured “salarygate” with a view to examining the public policy implications of the actions of government actors whose power to act is derived from the very Constitution that they undermine by superimposing themselves with impunity in the affairs of juristic persons.
It was reported that following a Cabinet meeting, Finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, a lawyer by training, and Information minister Moyo, a holder of a PhD degree in public policy, addressed journalists in Harare to inform the public that government had agreed with the “public” that packages previously paid out (under the watch of the same actors in government) were unjustified and bordered on obscenity and corruption.
It is this decision that must raise the concern of the public about the direction that the country is heading. The public has been told that the government has slashed salaries and perks for parastatal and local authorities’ bosses to $6 000 monthly pending the finalisation of a comprehensive salary structure being crafted by the Cabinet Committee on State Enterprises and Parastatals Development.
The public has been told that by reducing the salaries and perks of 73 out of 90 parastatal heads who were earning over $6 000 monthly, approximately $1 168 950 will be saved monthly, an amount enough to pay at least 3 000 civil servants.
Local authorities’ bosses, who have been earning mega salaries, have had their packages slashed to levels of permanent secretaries in government ministries for the highest-paid. It was further reported that much more will be saved when salaries of managers and directors at local authorities are also rationalised. In addition, it was reported that with immediate effect, bonuses for executives will be paid on a performance basis and not as an automatic entitlement as has been the case.
To the extent that the announcement made was a decision of the Cabinet, it would be unfair to single out the bearers of the news when analysing whether the decision is ultra vires the Constitution of Zimbabwe. If the decision is found to undermine the Constitution, then surely it can be concluded that the Cabinet headed by President Mugabe must be held accountable for such unlawful and unconstitutional conduct.
One is forced to examine the constitutional and legal basis of the relationship between national and local government on the one hand and the national government and institutions in which the government has shareholding in.
The balance of power between the national and local government in terms of the Constitution has to be a convenient starting point in the conversation.
Surely, it was never the intention to allow the national government to pierce the corporate veil of local government institutions to permit an absurdity that is implicit in the Cabinet decision made in reaction to a genuine public outcry about the state of affairs in public institutions.
There can be no doubt that improving the lives of local people and communities matters because where the balance of power exists between the national and local government, a culture of responsibility and accountability for delivery of intended service must follow.
However, in an environment where the lifestyle of Cabinet ministers is inconsistent with the salaries that they are purportedly earning, it must follow that subordinates will feel that they also cannot be bound to non-existent rules of the game.
One may conveniently argue that a fish starts rotting from the head and when that happens, it would be futile to secure the life of the fish without dealing with the head.
A strong democracy does not call for unaccountable members of the Cabinet opportunistically taking advantage of situations to mislead a gullible public but requires popular participation at both the national and local government level using the scandals as symptoms of a fundamentally flawed system of government.
There can be no doubt that the two are interconnected. If popular participation at the grass roots is not strong, the consequences are predictable and inevitable. One may conclude that government actors are acting in a hypocritical manner by attempting to hijack so-called “scandals” that are no more than sign posts of where the country is heading when the public should see the scandals for what they are and what they represent in terms of a failed system of post-colonial administration.
Any rational person will know that the ills of Zimbabwe will not be cured by the medicine that is prescribed by a sick doctor, for instance.
Whilst we acknowledge the need for central government to set and monitor national strategic goals, it cannot be disputed that local government and parastatals must have their own autonomy.
Local authorities should, parastatals must, therefore, have the freedom to shape the development of their institutions and the scope to unlock the full potential of the opportunities offered in the market place.
It cannot be argued that the Cabinet of Zimbabwe has the legal right to make the decisions that they purport to make. On the contrary, the scandals that are being used for political expediency are pregnant with lessons of what has fundamentally gone wrong in contemporary Zimbabwe.
In arguing that the Cabinet has no legal authority to act on behalf of sovereign local authorities and parastatals, one is not attempting to justify the unjustifiable but to locate the issue in a broader context than the where it finds itself.
The larger context must necessary include the following questions: Where was Cabinet when the culture of impunity was given birth to? How come the culture has spread like cancer under the watch of President Mugabe?
Do the actions of senior members of the executive inspire people exposed to extreme poverty with the confidence that the future is secure if they don’t dip in the till for personal reasons? Who is the cabinet accountable to?
Does the public have a say about the systemic actions that undermine the rule of law? How can Zimbabwe deliver the promise to all when the drivers of change are the very people who seek to blame passengers and peripheral people for the lack of direction?
The scandals no doubt provide a good barometer to take stock of where the country is at 34 years old and perhaps where the country will be if the culture of finger-pointing that has apparently crystallised in contemporary Zimbabwe is not stopped.