SW Radio Africa (London)

25 April 2014

Zimbabwe: Chinamasa Welcomes Legal Challenges to Salary Cap

The drama surrounding Zimbabwe's so-called "salary-gate" scandals has intensified, with the Finance Minister welcoming any challenge to the recent government imposed salary cap as a chance to debate the issue in a public forum.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa last month issued a directive limiting the executive salaries at state-linked institutions and local authorities to $6,000 per month. This was in response to growing public anger at reports that exposed the shocking mega salaries executives were earning, while ordinary workers went without wages for months.

However many companies and local authorities are reported to have defied the directive, claiming it violates the country's labour laws and constitution. Other authorities reportedly said they had not received any official communication from government, and could not comply on the basis of news reports.

But speaking to journalists at a press briefing in Bulawayo Wednesday evening, Chinamasa said he welcomed any forthcoming legal challenges as an opportunity for all stakeholders to be honest.

"We will very much welcome anyone taking us to court because it will give us a clear public platform to discuss these issues. If it is me who has been misled, I will make the apologies, but we must be honest when discussing these issues; we have not been honest to each other," the Minister is quoted as saying.

Chinamasa explained that the $6,000 cap was only an "interim measure" meant to stop the "hemorrhaging" of state-institutions, and remuneration audits would be done for each entity to determine how much they can afford to pay in salaries. The recommendations would then need to be adopted by cabinet.

But the MDC-T shadow Minister for Local Government, Sesel Zvidzai, went further to describe executive salaries as "obscene" and "immoral", insisting they have been used as a way to loot and rob the poor in the name of salaries.

Zvidzai told SW Radio Africa that according to the Urban Councils Act, only the Minister of Labour can adjust salaries of local authorities, not the Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo who he said is the power behind local authorities.

"These obscene salaries have been signed off not by the Minister of Labour but by Minister Chombo, which makes them unlawful and therefore can be reversed. These senior staff at parastatals are hiding behind the law. Government has made a directive and it must be accepted," Zvidzai explained.

He added that executives at public institutions cannot hide any information about their conditions of service or employment, and anyone trying to so is simply admitting guilt and are trying to hide some illegal activity from the public.

Suspended chief executive Cuthbert Dube, who became the salary-gate poster boy, had been earning as much as $240,000 per month as head of the Public Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) before he was exposed and fired.

Zvidzai agreed with some observers who view the salary cap as an attempt by government to appease public anger over the salary-gate revelations, without sincerely intending to fix the institutions.

Almost every major parastatal that Zimbabwe was once proud of, including Air Zimbabwe, the national broadcaster ZBC and National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has been brought to financial ruin due to corruption, mismanagement and looting by senior staff.

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