BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
PUBLIC Service minister Paul Mavima yesterday admitted that civil servants could not afford locally made products and recommended that government sponsors them to buy cheaper goods in neighbouring South Africa.
He was responding to a message which went viral on social media purporting that the government was providing civil servants free shopping trips to South Africa.
The Public Service Commission (PSC), however, dismissed the message, it was fake.
But in an interview with NewsDay, in response to the alleged incentive, Mavima had said it was meant to ensure that civil servants get commodities they needed at a cheaper cost in South Africa and motivate them.
He admitted that government workers’ salaries were inadequate to buy local goods which he said were expensive.
“We welcome every policy that will motivate our workers,” Mavima said.
“There is no contradiction on the ‘Buy Zimbabwe’ campaign and the incentive to provide trips to South Africa. There is need to balance between the local policy and the need to ensure that the workers get the needed products at a reasonable cost.
“If the PSC provides transport costs to the citizens, it becomes convenient for them. They will be able to buy cheaper South African products as compared to those imported products which are sold here locally with retailers having effected mark-ups on the prices.”
Mavima said the lowest paid government worker was earning $30 000. Government workers, particularly teachers, have been threatening to go on strike, claiming incapacitation.
But last week, Mavima said the government was satisfied that the salaries it was paying to its workers were enough after reviewing them by about 70% this year. Yesterday, Mavima admitted the salaries could not match the prices of goods in the country.
He said for effective implementation of the incentive, PSC had to ensure that the workers, who intended to go and buy in South Africa, had access to foreign currency at the prevailing interbank rate.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube recently announced that ordinary citizens could withdraw a maximum limit of US$50 from banks.
“It is a reality that we still depend on South Africa for some of our products. We are one economy,” Mavima said.
“It is a short-term workable solution, which I would say requires proper planning and consultation with the civil servants before its implementation. We have to promote local products, but it is a fact that we are not yet able to comprehensively provide the needed products to our people.”
Government workers have been engaging in recurrent strikes since 2019 to force the government to pay them a living wage.
Progressive Teachers Unions of Zimbabwe secretary Lovejoy Sibanda said the South African trip incentive was likely to benefit high-ranking civil servants at the expense of ordinary workers.
“The same civil servants that have been told to borrow money to attend work cannot manage to buy cheaper products from abroad,” Sibanda said.
“Remember, civil servants are paid in local currency and the money is only enough to buy forex for rent. Civil servants want living wages, not trips. Government should give workers enough salaries so that they can do these shopping trips if they wish.”
Economist Eddie Cross said it was “ridiculous” for the government to encourage shopping abroad. He said it would result in the government incurring unnecessary expenditure on the civil service.
“There is no justification for that incentive to the civil servants, but it will only increase government expenditure,” Cross said.
“The extra funding on the trip only means there will be an increase in the cost of employment. Also, civil servants will unnecessarily be wasting time when they travel to foreign countries to do shopping which they can do locally.
“If the project is successfully implemented, it means there is low demand for locally-produced commodities which has detrimental effects on the local industry and the gross domestic product.”