31 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Govt Fingered Over 'Obscene' Salaries

Government has been jolted out of its deep slumber after local media exposed the outrageous salaries and perks chief executive officers of loss-making parastatals and local authorities are earning.

The "obscene" salaries of CEOs and top management at state institutions hit the headlines last month after it emerged former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) boss Happison Muchechetere was earning a basic monthly salary of more than US$27 000 and monthly allowances for housing at US$3 500 per month, US$2 500 in domestic workers' wages, US$3 000 for entertainment and a general allowance of US$3 000.

Muchechetere was earning US$39 000 per month excluding fuel and other benefits, while workers at ZBC went unpaid for seven months.

Barely days later, newspaper headlines screamed Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) CEO Cuthbert Dube's shocking salary of US$230 000 per month. Dube, who was fired as ZBC board chairperson after the revelations of staggering salaries at the state broadcaster, was this week also booted out of PSMAS.

The PSMAS boss' salary was at par with some league managers in the cash-rich English premiership who reportedly take home an average of US$65 000 a week.

The medical aid society also delivered another shocker last week when the salaries of its management were exposed by the media. It was revealed that half of its wage bill of US$33,4 million in 2012 was paid to 14 managers. The group finance manager earned a basic salary of US$200 000, followed by group operations executive at US$122 000.

Eight other senior directors were earning a basic salary of US$60 000 a month while middle managers were paid US$30 000, US$22 000 and US$15 000 each.

Not to be outdone, this week City of Harare executives found themselves on the front pages of local media which exposed 18 managers were gobbling up close to US$500 000 in monthly salaries. The salaries for the top management ranged from US$37 642 allegedly earned by Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi to US$33 413, while middle managers earned between US$12 000 and US$17 000.

After the stories hit the headlines, government gave the impression it was ignorant of the salary schedules.

Government ministers and top civil servants lambasted the CEOs and their boards. First on the firing line was Muchechetere, who was suspended and a forensic audit on ZBC ordered by Information minister Jonathan Moyo.

"We have a 47-member strong executive team who account for 33% of the whole salary budget -- that is unsustainable," Information, Media and Broadcasting Services secretary George Charamba explained to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services a fortnight ago.

"Their contracts were signed by one member of the board and not the whole board and there was no documentation to the parent ministry to say the board had concluded their perks. There was absolutely no legal basis to uphold those conditions of service."

The salaries at PSMAS, ZBC and Harare City Council are just a tip of the proverbial iceberg and more outrageous salaries will be exposed in the coming weeks and months as more investigations are conducted into the affairs of many other perennial loss-making parastatals and state enterprises including Air Zimbabwe, Grain Marketing Board, Zimbabwe National Road Authority, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the National Social SecurityAuthority, among others.

While giving the impression government has finally woken up to the continuing decay in parastatals, these cases raise pertinent questions about its sincerity and commitment to dealing with graft within its own institutions.

Health minister David Parirenyatwa's response to questions about Dube's salary suggests government was in the dark.

"We have already invited them (PSMAS) to give us information to discuss this issue," Parirenyatwa said in parliament last Thursday in response to a question by Manicaland Senator Patrick Chitaka (MDC-T).

"We will look at the law and statutes and see whether they satisfy the various requirements that are stipulated in the law. We do not want to say 'yes' in terms of salaries that we have not yet confirmed."

Gorden Moyo, former Minister of State Enterprises and Parastatals in the coalition government which ended last year, said the perks and general decay in parastatals should be blamed on the Zanu PF government which has deliberately chosen to ignore the policy recommendations crafted by his ministry.

"We raised these issues from day one of the GNU (Government of National Unity) and my ministry even launched a Corporate Governance Framework Manual for implementation by parastatals and line ministries," Moyo said in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent on Monday.

"All the issues of paying salaries and board fees commensurate with the performance of the parastatals were raised, but the Zanu PF arm of government would not brook any policy interventions sponsored by the MDCs. They saw their mandate as simply that of nullifying our efforts in government instead of tackling corruption," he said.

However, University of Zimbabwe lecturer Eldred Masunungure insisted that the MDCs should also shoulder the blame for the obscene salaries which took root during the GNU which they were part of.

"This happened after dollarisation and all three parties were there and all of them are guilty of complicity," said Masunungure, who added that "the buck stops with the relevant minister".

In Dube's case, the relevant minister when the salary structure was approved was Henry Madzorera of the MDC-T.

Current Information and Communication Technology minister Webster Shamu (Zanu PF) was Information minister and reportedly ignored a detailed dossier by Charamba outlining the rot at ZBC where Muchechetere awarded himself the hefty package.

While Charamba may be credited for his memo to Shamu detailing the rot at ZBC under Muchechetere's stewardship, he was part of the PSMAS board that approved Dube's salary.

Masunungure said punitive action should also be taken against other stakeholders including ministers and board members.

"Some maybe happy that Dube has been forced to go, but he is just a sacrificial lamb and more heads must roll," Masunungure said.

"One suspects that there was connivance among the various actors that included the CEOs, the parent ministry and boards. So the President should act."

Chiefs Council president Fortune Charumbira appeared concerned, asking last week in parliament if government was dealing with the "obscene" salary structures at parastatals.

"It is like they are in a different economy from others," Charumbira said.

Government should start implementing tougher measures to deal with the rot instead of sacrificing one or two individuals who represent only a tiny drop in the ocean of endemic corruption and unaccountability.

Some maybe happy that Dube has been forced to go, but he is just a sacrificial lamb and more heads must roll. One suspects that there was connivance among the various actors that included the CEOs, the parent ministry and boards. So the President should act.

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