Government cuts foreign service size

Source: Government cuts foreign service size | The Sunday Mail May 22, 2016

Tinashe Farawo

Government has begun streamlining its huge wage bill, retrenching officials and freezing posts at all its foreign missions over the past few weeks.

A 2015 civil service audit identified idle manpower, role duplication, unco-ordinated staff recruitment, flagrant abuse of overtime allowances and leave days, and salary fraud as chief cost drivers.

Auditors projected US$388 million could be saved yearly through staff rationalisation.

Though The Sunday Mail could not at the time of writing determine where else the axe has fallen, the Foreign Affairs Ministry has laid off mostly embassy clerical staff with more to follow.

Zimbabwe has 42 foreign missions, and these contribute to civil service salaries and allowances that are gobbling at least 83 percent of national revenue.

In the first half of 2015, Treasury spent US$1,54 billion on labour against revenue of US$1,718 billion. US$120 million goes to salaries monthly, with the least-paid taking home about US$380.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told this paper last week that leaner structures would be pursued as embassies were struggling financially, with some ambassadors still driving vehicles purchased in the 1990s.

A parliamentary delegation that recently visited Kuwait heard that Zimbabwe’s chief diplomat there, Ambassador Grey Marongwe, was owed US$127 000 in salary arrears.

Minister Mumbengegwi told The Sun day Mail, “We are reducing staffing levels at all our embassies to enable us to continue functioning. In fact, we have streamlined all our embassies. The ministry understands the challenges we are going through and these are being attended to.

“It is imperative to appreciate the need for resources. The vehicles that some of our ambassadors are using are old and breakdown regularly. That is an embarrassment to them and the country.

“The Foreign Affairs Ministry is a service ministry. It is, therefore, important to give (our ambassadors) a good image. We have been failing to meet our administration costs, though.”

Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association secretary-general Mr John Mlilo advised Government to consider other expenditure-cutting alternatives.

“The priorities seem highly misplaced. In any case, I don’t think they have enough money to pay for severance packages,” said Mr Mlilo. “Why should low-level workers be the only ones affected when seniors are the ones who consume huge sums?”

Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Mr Emmanuel Nyawo added: “It’s a sad development to fire ordinary workers at a time everyone is struggling to make ends meet. Why not streamline from the top? Do we really need, say, deputy ministers? They also contribute to the inflated wage bill.”

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive Mr Takunda Mugaga said Government was in the right direction, but “top heavy structures” should also be streamlined.

“Government is moving in the right direction and business welcomes its staff rationalisation exercise. Our civil service is top heavy, requiring streamlining, too. In addition, some of our embassies should be shut.”

The 2015 Civil Service Audit Report recommended centralising recruitment, merging departments and streamlining roles/functions of the remaining ones, and cutting salary support to grant-aided institutions.

It also suggests scrapping manpower development benefits, curtailing promotions and withholding salaries of 3 000-plus absentee civil servants who were caught out by the audit.

The IMF Staff Monitored Programme underscores a healthy salary-revenue ratio as key to improved economic performance.

In April 2016, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the IMF that authorities would shed excess staff and freeze recruitment and salaries until at least 2019.

In his letter of intent, co-signed by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya, Minister Chinamasa said the wage bills of Government and grant-aided institutions would be halved over the next three years.

Zimbabwe has 188 070 civil servants.

Part of the letter reads, “The service commissions of Government will implement the recommendations of their employment audits. We will conduct a review of allowances to identify savings and efficiency gains. We will enhance service delivery by redeploying under-utilised employees and we intend to retrench staff that cannot be redeployed.

“To achieve this reduction, we will work on the size and remuneration of the Public Service. Based on current economic growth and expenditure forecasts, this will mean that the employment and salary freeze will have to remain in place for at least the next three years.

“We have already reduced employment cost obligations for grant-aided institutions. Further to the audit by the Civil Service Commission, the Police and the Judicial Service Commissions and the Health Services Board will complete salary and employment audits for their own sectors in 2016. These audits will inform our decision on the reduction of employment costs across the Government and related institutions.”