via Pay rot: Government must go beyond words 16/03/2014 by Learnmore Zuze NewZimbabwe
“An all pervading spirit of corruption, selfishness and materialism seems to have invaded the country.”
On April 23, 1616 a great genius of the literary arts breathed his last at the age of 52. It is now close to four centuries since the death of the great wordsmith and playwright William Shakespeare yet his work continues to bear testimony to the immortality of the spoken and written word. Very few of us, if any, will be remembered a century from today.
In one of his analytical interludes, the literary colossus once said, “Action is eloquent.” It is these words that gave birth to the cliché “Action speaks louder than words”. Many people and even groups have formed subsequent theories from the literary giant’s statement most notably the motivation industry which has whole lectures and books built around the philosophy. Indeed, action is more lucid than words; it shows determination. It is what separates those who need something from those who merely wantsomething. After all has been said, something must be done and Shakespeare couldn’t have put it any better.
The recent exposure of the extravagant salaries of management in Government institutions drew the ire of nearly every Zimbabwean. What added salt to the injury is the under performance of the institutions presided over by corporate leaders swimming in such incredible luxury. The unimaginable salaries outraged the conscience of the long-suffering unpaid workers and Zimbabweans at large. The commonly used word in the scandal, ‘obscene’, does justice to explaining how unethical it is to be earning more than the United States President in a tiny country groaning under the burden of a mal-performing economy. A well-known economist is on record saying that if the economy had been a patient then it would certainly have been in the Intensive Care Unit. It is an ironic view of the grinding poverty in Zimbabwe that we have corporate leaders who gross more than an organization’s wage bill.
It is truly shameful when individuals become richer than the organizations they lead while employees go for months without salaries. It defies logic how anyone can ever justify earning $200,000 coupled with imprudent perks in fuel and holidays in a struggling economy like ours. It is the height of self-centeredness in the country. Zimbabwe finds herself surrounded by an all-pervading spirit of corruption; selfishness and shocking individualism. The spirit has not even spared the religious world where people find nothing wrong with leaders who roll in Bentleys while congregants are widows, orphans and the struggling who fund the Hollywood lifestyles.
On the one hand, the Government ought to be commended for its boldness in throwing light on the shocking selfishness although much damage had resulted from its inaction over the years. The country is in dire need of leaders with consciences; people who are sensitive to the plight of the citizenry, people who can exercise restraint. In principle, it serves no practical purpose to merely expose these unscrupulous salaries for the sake of naming and shaming. Naming and shaming these mega earners is not the point; the Government must go beyond words. The ultimate objective should not be to embarrass but to bring about reforms and sanity to corporate governance for the common good.
Many people across the country, in their rage and limited legal knowledge have called for “life sentences” for the mega earners. An attempt was even made by some media sections to portray the Prosecutor General as being reluctant to prosecute the corporate leaders. However, what the Prosecutor General articulated is the correct position at law; there is no statute that governs anyone’s salary in the country. While everyone sees the moral reprehensibility of these salaries, particularly in our bed-ridden economy, there is no crime committed, in essence, at law. There is no statute which regulates incomes or prices in Zimbabwe and the principle of legality dictates that there is no crime without law. Thus, the general feeling of having them incarcerated remains popular opinion devoid of legal grounding.
The real need of the matter is for the Government to devise ways to ensure that nothing of this rot will ever be allowed again by putting in place transparent and ethical systems. The setting up of the government-driven governance reforms (Corporate Governance and Delivery Agency) is on the right path. Government must show that it is committed to cutting off the tail of corporate misconduct as opposed to merely wanting to have it reduced in size. It should enunciate a clear position towards ending corporate misconduct and the hovering spirit of corruption which has become synonymous with most public institutions. Also, the Anti-Corruption Unit needs to be complimented and even reformed or modified in this regard.
Most people have thrown around the idea that board members get to declare their assets and financial standing before assuming office. In other States, one cannot take up particular office without declaring how much they are worth and the idea is quite noble. For the country to pull out of its current salaries quagmire there is need for salary adjustments to be linked to productivity. It also might be necessary for performance contracts to be introduced for all managers such that any salary increase can be linked to performance.
Gone should be the days where executives and managers simply loot from public institutions by virtue of their posts with no performance to show for their opulent lifestyles. Gone should be the days where mega earners are simply people who are politically connected in organizations. We all pray for a dawn of new era where leaders are not motivated by individual greed but act for the common good towards a progressive Zimbabwe.