Friday, 28 November 2008

CATCH THEM, IF YOU CAN

By Gershom Ndhlovu

 

I am surprised that people are surprised that the Rupiah Banda administration moved so swiftly to increase salaries and allowances for Constitutional office holders so soon after the controversial elections. In fact the indelible red ink is not yet completely washed away from the people who voted particularly in the rural areas where accessing water may be a bit tricky.

This reminds me of the film Catch Me If You Can in which the main character goes round conning a whole range of people such that when they realise they have been conned, it is too late.

When the MMD presidential candidate was campaigning in his capacity as acting republican president, he refused to assent to the bills because of the pressure from civil society, the church and general members of the public. This was a crucial bargaining chip by Banda to make people believe that he had their interests at heart. This act of betrayal shows that he and his ministers are only concerned about their own personal welfare.

People should have been reading the ruling MMD politicians’ lips over this issue during the election campaign. It was clear that these bills would be pulled out of the hat it was just a matter of time.

The justification by the government with the support of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions president Leonard Hikaumba, that civil servants were also awarded a 15 per cent increment really does not hold water. That to a civil servant earning K1 million is a mere K150,000 but to someone earning over K20 million plus other allowances and benefits, it is a whole world at over K3 million.

If anything, the Vice President will be earning not less than K30 million per month compared to K15 million per annum that a teacher, a nurse and a policeman earns.

It appears like Information and Broadcasting Minister General Ronnie Shikapwasha who is also Chief Government spokesman lives on a different planet where he does not know that it is a struggle for earthlings in Kanyama, in Masala and in Kwacha townships to survive from one day to the next. This is what makes it a political issue for an opposition leader worth his salt to talk about.

It is illogical for leaders to claim that some of them have left their businesses to come into government. If these businesses were doing well they should have stuck to them instead of milking public coffers through unjustified salary and allowance increments and other fringe benefits.

It is equally insulting to the public by Shikapwasha demeaning other lowly paid workers like teachers who when it comes to salary increments, they are theorised to about complex economic issues of inflation and such stuff.

As such, PF president Michael Sata is within his duty as an opposition leader to remind the government and Banda of what they did and promised during campaigns. To argue that even PF Members of Parliament also voted for the bills does not hold any water at all. It is the same MMD that told the electorate that voting for an opposition leader would be useless because they do not have sufficient members to pass bills.

The opposition MPs would still have been steam-rolled even if they all had voted against the bill anyway.

As for the ZCTU, one misses the days of militant unionists like Frederick Chiluba (who later became republican president and weakened the trade unions), Fackson Shamenda and the late Japhet Moonde (who later became an MP and still spoke out on labour issues) who always sided with the workers.

Hikaumba may be because of his alliance with the petty bourgeoisie who are in this case also the ruling class, in this case through the National Constitution Conference where he is vice chairperson, tends to agree with their treacherous increment of salaries and allowances.

If the ZCTU president is a true trade unionist, he should speak on behalf of the workers who are casualised, underpaid and when pensioned off, don’t get their dues until they go to the grave as miserable as they were during their working lives.

Well, President Banda promised mountains, let us wait and see if he will deliver them; cheap fertiliser, low fuel prices (which are coming down on the international market anyway), more jobs and the rest. Just more than three weeks into his administration, things do not look very promising.

As it is, we will be subjected to the legalised plunder of national resources through the current constitution office holders who will, at the end of the day, walk away with even bigger and mouth watering gratuities to turn the lesser mortals green with envy.

 

The issue of Zimbabwe is clearly getting out of hand. The refusal of entry into that country of eminent persons in the name of former US president Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, shows that the Robert Mugabe administration is not committed to resolving the political impasse there.

Ever since the disputed elections in March and June this year, there has not been a proper running government in Zimbabwe with the result that the economy has all but collapsed, there are widespread food shortages and hospitals have run out of drugs and other materials essential for the running of a hospital.

It appears that Mugabe is well insulated from the suffering of the people because he is able to get foreign exchange to buy himself food and he is also able to be attended to by foreign doctors in foreign lands.

Disappointingly, even SADC has now been manipulated to the extent where they have now allowed the mockery of a show to continue while ordinary Zimbabweans sink into deeper despair.

Zimbabweans in the Diaspora are no longer able to send money to their kith and kin through Western Union simply because there is no money to pay them locally.

Mugabe, as all leaders in Africa, should swallow his proud and listen to the people he leads.

 

4 comments:

Yakima said...

Gershom,

Indeed it is paradoxical, where the only reasonable cause for surprise is that anyone would be surprised by developments. At the same time I would not say that there is nothing which the opposition could do if they wanted to, and that is not to accept the unreasonable increment.

Any politician who claims to be against the increases can demonstrate their opposition to the public quite clearly by giving the difference back to the treasury. I won't venture to suggest that any politician who does not do so is in fact, de facto, demonstrating their approval, but the possibility is bound to cross people's minds.

I expect that a generous public would not fault those who accepted out of genuine want, as not all who run for office need be independently wealthy or from small families. In fact don't such cases only better serve to illustrate the jealousy of already wealthy individuals who blithely accept salary inflation for themselves on the basis of their less fortunate colleagues needs?

All that is required is for someone to go first, contact their bank and instruct them to remit the increase back each month. After that we can reasonably judge everyone else involved by their example.

Gershom said...

Yakima (we add mbembe to my brother's son by the same name meaning "fighting stopped"),

I know that Enoch Kavindele, when he was Chingola Member of Parliament, and Dipak Patel, when he was Lusaka Central MP, had their parley incomes going to their constituencies. Whether any one of the current crop is capable of doing that, is a matter we may only speculate about.

Some MPs I know personally were at one time, down and out such that they would want to make up for what they missed then such that such a thought would not cross their minds.

It is the argument that some MPs left their businesses for public office and therefore deserve to be remunerated that way that I don't agree with. They should have stuck to their businesses. Period.

Gershom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yakima said...

Gershom,

It seems that Mr. Leonard Hikaumba of ZCTU has roughly the same idea as I do, only his is better. Those opposed to the expenditure on salaries should put the excess to work on projects which they do approve of directly.

The vote of the majority has legally placed the excess into the hands of opposition members, to do with as they see fit. Time to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

I agree with you that it is quite ridiculous to complain that a job for which an MP campaigned against worthy opposition should suddenly become unacceptable due to a pay cut from their former salaries. It will be illuminating to see how such officials spend their self-proclaimed windfall.