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High Cost of Inclusive Government

Critics say country can ill afford huge ministerial wage bill at time when it’s struggling to feed its starving population.
By Chipo Sithole
The power-sharing deal entered by long-time Zimbabwe ruler Robert Mugabe and leaders of the fractured opposition establishes the largest cabinet since independence in 1980, imposing a huge financial cost on the crisis-torn country.

Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, had all along insisted on a government with 15 ministers, arguing that Mugabe's huge and bloated cabinet was draining the country's finances.

He has, however, acceded to demands by Mugabe and his negotiating team for a much bigger administration.

In a 31-person cabinet, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF will have 15 ministers, the mainstream MDC will have 13 and the breakaway MDC, led by Arthur Mutambara, will have three. There will be eight deputy ministers drawn from ZANU-PF, six from Tsvangirai's party and one deputy minister from the Mutambara MDC faction.

That makes a total of 46 cabinet posts. Each minister will attract a hefty monthly salary reported to be 10,000 US dollars. Deputy ministers will earn a bit less.

The new prime minister will have two deputies – one from his main MDC faction and another from the breakaway faction. There will also be two vice presidents from ZANU- PF. The salary bill alone will run well over 500,000 US dollars – excluding allowances that ministers and their assistants are entitled to.

Critics immediately said the country could ill afford such a huge wage bill at a time when it was struggling to feed its starving population. The ministers have a huge tax-free threshold, so the Zimbabwean exchequer will claw back very little in income tax from the salaries.

A senior MDC official, David Coltart, said the allocation of of cabinet posts to the three parties was based on total votes cast for the parties, rather than seats won in the March 29 election, when ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time since independence.

Accordingly, said Coltart, if the two MDC factions worked together, which he said they should in the national interest, they will enjoy a majority in cabinet.

"This is undoubtedly historic but we still have a long and treacherous road to travel," said Coltart. "Even had we in the combined MDC obtained total control, the challenges are immense."

The bitter Zimbabwean rivals signed a power-sharing deal on September 15 that will establish a coalition government and potentially end an economic implosion that has seen inflation skyrocket to 11 million per cent.

"They have all endorsed the document, [they have] signed it," said South African president Thabo Mbeki, the negotiator appointed by the Southern African Development Community. Speaking at a press briefing in Harare, he added that "all the parties have signed without reservations".

Zimbabwe's June 27 presidential run-off election saw the incumbent Mugabe claiming a landslide victory in a one-man race after Tsvangirai pulled out, citing violence and restrictions on his campaign.

Political violence and killings nationwide followed Tsvangirai's victory in the first round of balloting on March 29, claiming at least 125 lives. The MDC leader, however, failed to reach the 50 per cent threshold that would have enabled him to form a government, forcing the run-off.

Aid agencies estimate nearly 200,000 people have been displaced by the conflict. Brutal extra-judicial killings were reportedly sanctioned by the Mugabe government and images of hacked bodies and Zimbabweans burnt to death shocked the nation.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who seemed irreconcilable just weeks ago, managed to hammer out an agreement during the last four-day round of negotiations.

Mugabe's negotiating team had repeatedly accused Tsvangirai of deliberately delaying the talks to force a transfer of power. But Tsvangirai insisted he could not accept a post that made him a lame duck prime minister while Mugabe retained the sweeping powers that he has wielded since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980.

The road to recovery, however, remains difficult. The power-sharing agreement establishes the post of prime minister for Tsvangirai, an executive position that will coordinate and oversee the functions and affairs of the government. Both parties share the duties of appointing cabinet ministers.

But the proposed reforms will still have to pass through a deeply divided parliament that heckled Mugabe when he officially opened it on August 26.

IWPR understands Constitutional Amendment 19 – ensuring the setting up of an inclusive government that will initiate an all-inclusive process of constitutional reform – is due to be tabled in parliament, which has been adjourned until October.

The speaker of parliament, a member of the main MDC faction, and the senate president, from ZANU-PF, are due to call a special parliamentary session to push through the amendment.

That process will last 18 months, by which time a new democratic constitution must be implemented. A time frame will be determined for new elections which will be conducted in terms of the new constitution.

"The inclusive government will have Mugabe as president with greatly reduced powers to those he enjoys today," said Coltart. "Morgan Tsvangirai will obviously be prime minister. Although he does not have absolute power, he does have substantial power. For example, he will advise Mugabe on all future appointments including judges, ambassadors and the like."

A senior ZANU-PF deputy – who declined to be named, saying parties had been sworn to secrecy – ruled out chances of parliament stonewalling constitutional reforms to legalise the coalition government.

The reforms are, he said, "a given, because there is consensus and we are simply approaching parliament to rubberstamp this".

There has been fierce resistance in Mugabe's ZANU-PF to the power-sharing deal.

Tsvangirai's powers to "coordinate and supervise" government affairs constitutes more authority than the government had wanted to give, and the arrangement still leaves open the question of whether the prime minister will have executive authority that cannot be overruled by the president.

There will be a slightly cumbersome arrangement for conducting government business, which is the essence of the compromise agreed to following weeks of intense haggling among the parties.

IWPR understands that cabinet will be chaired by Mugabe, with Tsvangirai as the vice chair. A council of ministers chaired by Tsvangirai will supervise the work of cabinet. There are fears that the deal will collapse, but experts say as long as it is guaranteed through a legislative provision it will fly.

Despite the delicate process of sharing power, many Zimbabweans still have great expectations of Tsvangirai, whom they view as one capable of delivering long-kept promises.

"We seek the peace and healing of a nation traumatised for too long," Tsvangirai told IWPR. His outspoken nature has earned him a reputation as Zimbabwe's justice crusader.

On the campaign trail, he has railed against Mugabe for sanctioning violence against his supporters and slammed the veteran ruler's disastrous handling of the economy.

Tsvangirai also accuses the 84-year-old Mugabe of being insincere in fighting deep-rooted corruption in his government. So many will expect change under Tsvangirai’s tutelage.

Mugabe, meanwhile, is counting on the MDC to attract much-needed foreign aid and investment, suspended eight years ago over his misrule.

Tsvangirai told IWPR that he estimated that "at least 5 to 10 billion US dollars would be urgently needed" to turn around the world's fastest-shrinking economy.

The Zimbabwe government will also be looking to woo back some of the estimated three million Zimbabweans who have fled the country over the past decade, taking with them precious skills.

The deal opens the way for international donors to help revive Zimbabwe's economy.

The European Union, which was due to expand its sanctions list on September 15 when its council of ministers had scheduled a meeting, has said it is reconsidering these plans in light of the power-sharing agreement.

"We need to study the agreement and assess the commitments of the parties," said the bloc's EU presidency in a statement. "We will be considering this over the course of the day and the weekend, and we will see how and to what extent there may be adjustments in the initial draft conclusions."

Zimbabwe will be under pressure to plead for debt forgiveness. The crisis-torn country is currently saddled with heavy debts from multilateral financial institutions. The latest June report by the International Monetary Fund says Zimbabwe owes nearly 135 million US dollars in global arrears to the Bretton Woods institution.

The Fishmongers group of donors, comprising mainly western countries, has proposed an aid package worth 1-1.5 billion US dollars a year – almost four times the aid currently trickling into the country.

Britain, the former colonial power, plans to immediately double its aid from the current level of 90 million US dollars a year. Donors are optimistic that Zimbabwe could rebound rapidly.

But much depends on the economic reconstruction package cobbled together by the new government and the political willingness of the parties to re-engage the international community

Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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