The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Salarygate - Corrective to Appropriate Action

"IN the public eye, these exorbitant salaries and allowances are not only corrupt but also obscene." The speaker was Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

The subject was the "unjustifiably high salaries and allowances" paid to senior managers and chief executives of Zimbabwe's state enterprises, parastatals and local authorities.

Chinamasa's statement followed a Cabinet decision to put a cap of US$6 000 to an individual's combined basic salary and allowances.

The figures alluded to by the minister are now in the public domain since the outbreak of the infamous salarygate earlier this year. What is not in the public domain is the follow-up action.

There is nothing new in stating that Government is in a cash bind. That is the reason there hasn't been much economic activity following Zanu-PF's victory in the July 31 2013 harmonised elections.

The scandal is that in the midst of the so-called liquidity crunch there are in fact people in state enterprises who earn obscene salaries which they top up with outrageous allowances.

How do we justify as a nation a situation where a council executive claims to earn a basic salary of US$1 173 which then shoots to US$17 027 with allowances?

There is a whiff of corruption there. Is this not an attempt to evade paying tax? And Zimra is happy to pursue with hot iron an honest worker who takes home just US$500 a month!

What about a salary of US$230 000 ballooning to $500 000 with allowances?

We compound the scandal by a seeming inability to take what could be termed appropriate action, not just "corrective action".

Government needs all the money it can lay its hands on, yet that is perhaps not the priority. A key element of Zim Asset's success is to win the war against corruption.

That should be our enemy number one. What salarygate and other acts of malfeasance have revealed is that money is abused on a massive scale by a few individuals in state enterprises, parastatals and local authorities.

Yet beside warnings of stern action by the President, there has been no action beyond a wringing of hands.

One is left with a number of uncomfortable questions:

Are we all sinners to a point where none is brave enough to cast the first stone? Do we all live in glass houses?

Or are we as a nation a victim of ineffective laws? Or nobody cares about what happens to our national resources except those who can lay their hands on them, as is the case with Chiadzwa diamonds?

Since Salarygate broke, we have used every epithet in the book to attack those involved. But apparently our laws can't find a single criminal.

People can't be arrested for lack of morality, compassion or conscience.

They can't be arrested for giving themselves obscene allowances and bonuses even if they are not performing their duties to satisfaction or have run down the organisations they are employed to prosper through their inimitable skills and qualifications.

There is simply no accountability nor a culture of service delivery. If our law is an ass, as the President once complained those many years ago, then our MPs have their task cut for them. There is no use in wasting time exposing corruption if it's not a punishable offence in our Constitution.

Instead, people now believe the noise around corruption is a diversion from the crux of fulfilling electoral promises.

Yet punishing the corrupt should be seen as a means to making government officials deliver on their mandate. Zanu-PF made this an electoral issue, it is captured in Zim Asset and it is one key deliverable which doesn't cost Government a lot of money.

No one will invest money in a system where there is no accountability and there are no laws to punish malfeasance.

A Chinese bank executive who was in the country recently also made remarks about Zimbabwe's levels of corruption. Zimbabwe's enemies, now having lost the political game around human rights and violence, are certain to clutch at the matter of pervasive corruption and patronage system which are condemned but condoned.

Once the fight against corruption is won, there is no doubt that there will be plenty of money. We have too much of it going into private pockets instead of meeting the needs of the poor whom Government has given land to. There will be investors coming in too.

And our diamonds at Chiadzwa? (The question can be asked of gold, chrome, platinum, etc.)

While Finance Minister Chinamasa is struggling to source money for Zim Asset from outside, including trying to make the IMF our bedfellows again, Government knows next to nothing about Chiadzwa diamonds although it has a 50-50 arrangement with diamond mining companies through the ZMDC and Zimbabwe is reported to have fabulous reserves, perhaps second only to South Africa.

In a recent interview, Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa indicated that the mining partners, who include Mbada Diamonds, Anjin, Marange Resources, Jinan and Kusena Diamonds, were reluctant to share information on quantities produced, where the diamonds were being sold, and at what price.

"The relationship we are having with these companies is a business relationship and as a business partner, how come I don't know my production levels, how much carats are being produced, who am I selling these diamonds to, at what price?" Minister Chidhakwa protested.

We don't even know the quantities in the ground. I doubt if we can prove how much has actually been invested there beside the claims the companies make.

The minister's epiphanic rage followed an almost fortuitous discussion with officials of the Belgium-based Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) trying to play the Good Samaritan. The AWDC noted an anomaly after the recent diamond auction where treasury received only US$10 366 419,78 from the US$69 109 465,18 raised at the auction.

"The failure of the companies to remit the resource depletion fee and marketing fees to treasury is of deep concern," said the AWDC.

"Could it be they are exempted from paying these taxes in the contracts they have? Contracts should be made available to the public and diamond companies should publish their financial statements."

The AWDC noted that the companies exploiting diamonds in Chiadzwa made only token payments to treasury, observing; ". . . it is evident that there is something terribly wrong either with the way the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority is operating or the way mining contracts are negotiated."

In short, AWDC indicated that there was a cartel making money from our diamonds while Government slept on duty.

All along the opposition parties gave us the impression that Zanu-PF had all the money from Chiadzwa, and after the elections people are still asking themselves: But why can't they fund their Zim Asset from the diamonds they have looted since they were discovered almost four years ago?'

So once again it's the law denying Zimbabweans their birthright!

It's sad, but it must be stated that the euphoria generated by salarygate has since been replaced by a sense of hopelessness.

A miasmic malaise sits over the nation like a barren cloud.

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