|MANHERU: Civil Servants Pay: Goading the masses, cuddling the IMF|
|Saturday, 16 July 2011 00:00|
THE MDC have chosen a political response to a security issue. This column had given them a good tip on how to handle the
matter, namely that they take up the matter through appropriate channels whose creation they themselves agitated for when they joined the Inclusive Government.
Then when the day is up and hitting the fontanelle, the visitor shall bid goodbye, soon to beat the homeward path.
The MDC formations have stepped on a raw nerve and their bringing the matter of generals to Parliament can only stoke greater rage. They are sure to walk away empty-handed, bleeding. Mark my paragraph.
Economic lesson from a dog
Basic textbooks on economics will tell you that what makes this one curve stand out above all other curves - animate or inanimate - is its unique and stubborn trait of refusing to dive to the zero point of any graph, let alone to venture into the minus zone. It may meander and mend, twist and turn but no, it never hits point zero or below. When it comes to a downward trend, it is very stubborn, more stubborn than Minister Biti, with all his self-vaunted ghetto intransigence.
Its resilience is not hard to discover. Even a beggar whose pocket is totally empty, still incurs consumption-related expenditure. He must live, and the will to live compels that he borrows for survival, well beyond his savings.
This is why people get over-borrowed, including those living on or beneath the threshold, who thus should be reckoned as unable to spent.
Beyond the alchemy of dreams
Today he says he has recovered from the dashing idealism of those tumultuous days where the alchemy of militant idealism turned boys' toys into fuel-free Ferraris. He has discovered new bodies of knowledge, new rules of life, including one that politely advises that this earth has its guardians, all hailing from a clan of fairer, white skin colour. He has new teachers, new textbooks from some university called Bretton Woods.
He is also quick to add the real world is hard on the soft, harder on the dreamy. He says he is now a down-to-earth man, a hard-nosed politician-minister. I hope he is all that. For the sake of this article I take comfort from the sheer longevity of matters learnt in youth.
The one lesson in capitalism
Capitalism cannot deny its victim - the worker - the ability to reproduce his life and his class-kind, without imperiling itself.
Zimbabwe's national statistics are compiled by a department under Minister Biti's charge. He is about to replace that department's leadership, fortuitously giving its reigns to an officer who once upon a time was his high school teacher. This is the department which tells us what threshold earnings for our society should be, all to
The worker himself does not invent figures that gauge the poverty datum line. Biti's Zimstats -renamed after the old CSO, reshaped after a blueprint and on orders of the ubiquitous International Monetary Fund (IMF) - does.
Grazing around the tether.
Even a marketer knows that it is repeat sales that make business. It is never the once-only sale. If our minister' derived advice is that Government is to exploit the current worker to the bone and then to the grave, all in a hurry, then what? Shut the doors of Government while opening the happy, bloody mouth of the IMF?
To expect so is to defy the laws of the consumption curve, is it not? The first instinct of any life is self-preservation, which is why very few - if any - hunger-related deaths have been reported in the public service, grossly underpaid though civil servants still are.
But he would have known from his temporary sojourn in rural areas that a goat on a tether eats around the enchanted circle marked by the reach of the rope that leashes it.
It has to bribe, kick back, motivate, do many other unseemly things for this servant who has to obey the dictates of survival consumption.
To please an outside auditor, he has created conditions where his bigoted remuneration ideas gnaw away the very moral fabric of this nation, indeed hack the very ramparts of probity behind which a brave new world must subsist. After such a sordid achievement, he retires to his party to whelp about "a party of excellence".
Salaries as an internal sanction.
Apart from being unproductive, in fact destructive, such a Service, itself the largest fraction of a dwindling workforce, cannot demand goods and services on the back of which any economy should and can grow. Simply, the workforce has no disposable income.
The minister behaves as if he has not heard of John Meynard Keynes and his post-WW1 theory on how governments should and do behave after major disasters like or akin to a major war.
After Versailles, defeated Germany was supposed to pay reparations to "the uttermost farthing". The victorious allies sought to exact from Germany reparations which were the value of another world war, something which gave proud Germany an easy choice between a humiliating peace and a second world war. Britain's Churchill whom I am sure Minister Biti knows and possibly reveres, castigated this foolish stance by the allies, one designed more to appease public sentiment than to build peace. He wrote: "The multitudes remained plunged in ignorance of the simplest economic facts, and their leaders, seeking their votes, did not dare to undeceive them.
The newspapers, after their fashion, reflected and emphasised the prevailing opinions. Few voices were raised to explain that payment of reparations can only be made by services or by the physical transportation of goods in wagons across land frontiers or in ships across salt water; or that when these goods arrive in demanding countries they dislocate the local industry except in very primitive or rigorously-controlled societies."He predicted that history "will characterise all these transctions as insane" as they laid the foundation for a resurging martial Germany and the economic blizzard we now know as the great depression.
Apart from the consequences of a second world war, Europe - Britain included - faced an era of unstable governments as the already squeezed electorate voted out one government after another, voted in one coalition after another. In Britain itself, the Labour-Socialist Prime Minister called Ramsay MacDonald proposed a programme of austerity and sacrifice for an already starving, war-weary nation. Wrote Churchill: "The mass of the people were asked to vote for a regime of self-denial." I don't think the minister would have got my point if I had quoted Mahatma Ghandi or any other non-European leader. Why is the Minister asking for a similar vote?
Ghost workers or ghost stipends?
No one has asked Biti to perform such a feat. But everyone had appealed to him not to ingest shit while ejecting common survival sense. As for our incoherent Prime Minister, so where does the money for a meaningful rise come from, Sir? Similarly, the IMF has already written, telling Biti to cut the wage bill, regardless. So Biti has an institutional home and the real challenge is to unpack and expose motives and the rationale behind this baffling stance.
Baffling because the minister is taking a hostile stance against all civil servants, including those in his ministry whose loyalty he has taxed to breaking point. As I write, the Minister is virtually alone, relying on ever diminishing hands, largely drawn from a small, politically motivated clique he has imported into his Ministry, or converted on the strength of relatively small, but in our circumstances, still significant monthly stipends coming from donor institutions and shady travel. These undeclared stipends, operating outside of the Public Service system in the form of a parallel structure, have sustained a small staff that remains loyal to him, churning spacious arguments in defence of the minister's hopelessly threadbare thesis. I am saying, the Minister's ministry has more than one remuneration structure, which is why the notion of ghost workers is child play relative to ghost stipends. Thank God someone has noticed and there is movement that shall reveal a lot.
Borrowing from the IMF
The trouble with our media is that they lack perspective and cross references. IMF reports have consistently hammered on the issue of civil service salaries as a fraction of the GDP, or more accurately, as a fraction of revenue. The IMF myth has always been that public sector spending crowds out the private sector. I am making two points here: the minister does not own the argument against civil service salary review. It is an IMF argument which has found an enthusiastic gladiator in the Minister, against a slippery floor by way of his disgruntled Ministry and all-round revilement by colleagues in Government.
It is a derived argument by which the Minister hopes to win accolades and the imprimatur of the West. His audience is an outside one.
Already, he has failed the test on two matters: he could not successfully pilfer the President's powers in order to be able to block certain policies which cause discomfort in the hungry West; he could not get in those amendments which the IMF wanted inserted into the now-aborted Diamonds Bill. His credentials in the eyes of the IMF and the West are thus now in doubt. He has to peddle very hard, even against advice from his superiors in his party. This is why both in Cabinet and at Monday meetings of principals, Tsvangirai is at one with his two colleagues, against his own Minister in the Inclusive Government, and his own Secretary General in the MDC-T.
His flip-flopping nonsense is a false dilemma by a poor politician who thinks he is being complicated. After all, anything that wears down Biti by way of credibility is sweet music to Tsvangirai. There is a price to be paid for the ugly things that happened at the Bulwayo Congress and before. Biti must know that.
What Maslow never permits
How do you get an unhappy workforce to want to provide a road, a dip-tank or some other amenity for any community, only to retire to a hungry, tumultuous home at the close of a working day? The nice road or dip-tank is the opportunity cost by way of foregone consumption to stave off starvation. Maslow and his life-learnt laws refuse.
A place of expediency
They know how Government revenues move, indeed how mineral resources have been used and, in the case of the country's fabulous minerals under multinational corporations, how these resources have been lost to the white world, with the benediction of the MDC-T component of the Inclusive Government. Above all, they know that there are SDRs stashed abroad while their children go hungry. It shall be interesting to see whether these SDRs have not been ravished in this meantime of civil servants hunger. It is going to be a hard-sell.
Hoping for Tunisia and Egypt
What the inclusive Government has failed to do is to teach the MDC formations that they are no longer an opposition. Sadly Biti, one of MDC's few flickering brains, is the proverbial old wine in new bottleskin. The form of Government remains contradicted by the mentality of opposition. Secondly, the MDC-T is still nursing hopes of Tunisia/Egypt-style unrest to catapult them to power, somehow. In that demented vision and its elevating fumes, they forget this is Zimbabwe and they are in Government and thus will be part of the target of the raging demos. Their hope is that the civil servants will be the trigger, with the rest of the workforce igniting as a result. The "deft" MDC-T will then be able to fish in troubled waters, either by way of an ouster, or by way of a Libya-like external intervention. This is a scenario which connects Biti's stubbornness to mainstream MDC-T politics. And as they draw up this never-never happy scenario, the forbidding political ecology of this country is not allowed to stand in the way. It is a happy dream and let no one wake them up! Of course they forget that even private sector workers look up to collective bargaining results in the public sector which redound to them as well through a new, higher wage floor level.
Our Marlovian hero
That candidate must have the courage to tackle ZANU(PF) as a current negative, and the highly politicised and radicalized masses in the long term. When capitalism is eating, the demos must be penned, must be kept in firm check, to lower the costs of exploitation. Capitalism needs a local strongman. And since the West is working for a dispensation in which ZANU(PF) is subdued, what we are witnessing in the MDC is a vicious struggle for a post-ZANU(PF) scenario, which is why it pits Biti against Tsvangirai. And in the fury of the fight, neither realise Zanu (PF) is still around. Like poor hunters, they are already fighting for the tender silver-side of a quarry still in the forest. That quarry happens to be the ferocious black rhino! So in one fight, Biti is engaging Robert Mugabe as both leader of ZANU(PF) and as President of Zimbabwe. On the other side he is engaging Tsvangirai as leader of MDC-T whose credentials he wants doubted by the sponsoring West. The easy media has read the issue of civil servants salaries as pitting Biti against President Mugabe.
Except that is not the case, and even it was - which it is not - that cannot be news. Merely a dog biting man. The truth is that Biti has been defying Tsvangirai who is not just at one with Mugabe and Mutambara, but is also anxious to carry the civil service with him. When told by his fellow principals to whip his man in line, his refrain has always been: "Anonetsa mukomana uyu," in utter resignation. Which is why Mutambara volunteered to help Tsvangirai pursuade Biti on the issue of salaries, and also went along when eventually, a decision was taken above and beyond the defiant minister. That cosmic fight which Biti has been waging makes him a Marlovian hero, one destined to initial victory, all to be followed by a dramatic fall.
And in that fight, relations are both dynamic and complex. As principals and leaders of Government, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara will close ranks and share a common front against Biti, as indeed they did two Wednesdays ago when they told the Minister to pack his papers and leave them, to go back to implement the decision on civil servants pay, which decision did not require his consent or goodwill. It was curt, and the Minister left, dumbfounded. Even that meeting eventually came after fervent pleas. The principals had decided against granting the nuisance minister any further audience, forcing Tsvangirai to make an obligatory plea for the minister. Inside, Tsvangirai could only have been pleased that his rival was meeting a dramatic comeuppence. Realising he stood no chance, the minister has since acquiesced and has fallen neatly in line. For the third time, he stands to disappoint the expectant IMF, and the western world.
The issue of civil servants salaries mark a turning point in the minister's career in Government. A decision has been taken without him, above him. Everybody in leadership is convinced he is obstructionist. Some even smell a constituency which lies well outside and beyond a national one. On this and other matters likely to emerge in future, he shall be nudged aside. He shall be told to fall in, or fall out of the way. And if push comes to shove, he shall be got rid off, with the only little likely tears coming from President Mugabe, his supposed enemy. His own shall spot cheeks that are drier than a surface licked by a cold Harmattan. He serves and continues to serve largely by the President's goodwill. Surely by now he must know he has enemies in his own party, friends in his opposition party and leadership. If he does not, then he is a fool that must never be saved. Icho!