Zimbabwe drops week-old plan for job and bonus cuts

by Reuters
Wednesday, 14 September 2016 14:01 GMT

* Plans dropped days after they were announced

* Finance minister trying to rein in spending

* Opposition says will defy protest ban (Adds public service union comment)

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's government said it had dropped plans to cut public sector jobs and bonuses less than a week after they were announced, as activists called for more protests against economic mismanagement and shortages.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced the unpopular cuts on Thursday, saying they were essential to rein in spending and a ballooning budget deficit.

But, six days later, Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe said the cabinet had rejected the proposals that also included an unpopular plan to reduce purchases of local maize.

The about-turn raises questions over how President Robert Mugabe's government now plans to tackle a severe financial crunch that has fuelled the protests and alarmed its neighbours.

"The president and cabinet want to assure the civil servants, the farmers and the public at large that the proposed measures are not friendly," Mushohwe said in a statement released on Wednesday.

"After extensive deliberations, cost-cutting measures relating to the civil service were rejected."

Cuts in the wage bill, which took 97 percent of the southern African nation's total revenue between January and June, were a central part of the reforms Chinamasa is pursuing as he seeks new funding from lenders.

The main public service union Apex Council met on Wednesday and welcomed the government's reversal of Chinamasa's measures, but wants the decision communicated officially to the union at a meeting with government set for Friday.

"The Apex Council holds every minister collectively responsible for the insensitive, impoverishing and unilateral proposals by the Minister of Finance," Apex Council chairperson Cecilia Alexander said in a statement.

Anger over economic difficulties, seen in cash shortages, the inability of citizens to pay for utilities such as water and electricity and a jobless rate above 80 percent, has spilled onto the streets, leading to violent clashes between protesters and police.

Opposition parties say they will disregard a police ban on protests and hold demonstrations against 92-year-old Mugabe throughout the country on Saturday.

Zimbabwe has been struggling to pay workers on time over the last three months and only managed to settle outstanding 2015 bonuses for some civil servants in July this year.

The government has not announced pay dates for September, and the army, which is paid on the 14th each month, had not received salaries on Wednesday, soldiers told Reuters. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Alison Williams)

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