New Government Comes at Price

Cabinet bill expected to be around one million US dollars a month, at time when half country needs food aid to survive.

New Government Comes at Price

Cabinet bill expected to be around one million US dollars a month, at time when half country needs food aid to survive.

Wednesday, 11 February, 2009
The 46-member cabinet of the new inclusive government will be sworn in February 13 as the largest and most costly in the history of post-independence Zimbabwe.

The former opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, set to be sworn as the country’s prime minister on February 11 together with his two deputies, had pushed for a cabinet of 15, but acceded to the demands of President Robert Mugabe and his followers for a much bigger administration to accommodate the three main political parties.

There will be 31 cabinet ministers and 15 deputy ministers, not far short of a sixth of the total number of legislators, and all of them with fantastic perks.

In terms of the power-sharing deal, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF will be allocated 15 cabinet seats and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, is to get 13. The remaining three positions will go to the breakaway MDC faction led by Professor Arthur Mutambara.

Of the 15 deputy ministerial positions, eight are to go to ZANU-PF, six to the main MDC and one to the Mutambara MDC.

There will also be 31 permanent secretaries and their staff, all of them adding hundreds of thousands of US dollars more, in salaries and perks, to the bill.

Cabinet posts attract a monthly salary of a little over 1,000 US dollars, with deputy ministers earning a bit less, but they are still entitled to allowances that far outweigh their modest salaries. The new prime minister and two new deputy prime ministers will be paid more than other ministers.

So salaries alone will cost the Zimbabwean taxpayer about 400,000 US dollars. Add allowances, and the cabinet bill balloons to almost a million a month. This at a time when half the population needs food aid to survive.

The Zimbabwean exchequer only claws back a little in tax: just around 25 per cent of the ministers’ income is treated as taxable.

Cabinet ministers and their deputies get a minimum of five security personnel and a couple of shiny new Mercedes Benz S-Class cars. Tsvangirai will be allocated dozens of security staff and a fleet of vehicles.

Some see the high cost of the inclusive government as a price worth paying for reconciliation after the disputed elections, but many say it’s another example of the political class enriching itself on the backs of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Gladys Hlatshwayo, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition advocacy officer, said the issue was not so much about the size of cabinet – which she said was bound to be huge given that there are three parties to the agreement – but government expenditure, including ministers’ inflated salaries and allowances.

"They should prioritise cutting the huge [government] expenditure," Hlatshwayo said.

The inclusive government is inheriting a 4.7 billion US dollar external debt owed to bilateral, multilateral and commercial creditors.

Zimbabwean business analyst Alex Magaisa, a law professor at Kent Law School at the University of Kent in Britain, said there was a need to reduce the size of government, which is probably unlikely in the short term given the "enormous size of the cabinet".

He said it was unfortunate that economic sense gave way to political expediency, predicting that the new government will live beyond its means.

"It is large; it fancies luxury but will not produce enough to sustain its voracious appetite. That is why some of this appetite has had to be funded by printing money," he said, adding it was absolutely crucial that the inclusive government cut down on spending.

"There is no point trying to be what you are not," he said. "Accept the reality that we are poor and impecunious at this stage and we cannot afford to spend more than we are producing."

Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe.
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