/ 27 August 2010

Zimbabwe’s parastatal bigwigs ‘swimming in wealth’

Zimbabwe’s parastatals are paying executives and senior management monthly salaries of up to US$15 000, despite reports of mismanagement, corruption and crippling debt.

The pay levels have been widely condemned as not reflecting the country’s economic reality, which includes a civil-servant salary freeze at $165 a month, poor service delivery and a weak economic recovery. In addition, 44 of the 76 parastatals have not submitted audited financial statements or held annual general meetings for the past five years, as stipulated by Zimbabwe’s Companies Act.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Gorden Moyo, the newly appointed state enterprises and parastatals minister, said: “We have given parastatals three months to comply with the directive to rationalise salaries and after that we will issue a report on the progress made.” The clampdown on parastatals follows proposals made by Moyo and approved by Cabinet last month that include restructuring, submitting salary scales for approval by line ministries, releasing audited financial statements and holding AGMs.

Government figures project that, if properly managed, parastatals could account for 40% of GDP. In a case that underscores the gross overspending by parastatals, the Financial Gazette reported that the National Railways of Zimbabwe spent at least US$240 000 buying luxury vehicles for its six executives.

It also revealed that the salaries for its 9 000-strong workforce had not been paid for two months. Wellington Chibhebhe, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, criticised the salaries of the parastatal executives, who, he said, were “swimming in wealth” at a time when most workers were hard-pressed to make ends meet.

Another problem besetting the country’s loss-making parastatals is a bloated wage bill although operations have been cut back. Air Zimbabwe’s bid to retrench 500 workers earlier this year was overturned by a labour court.

The cash-strapped airline faces a court demand of US$5-million by workers for unpaid salaries. The government has resisted calls to privatise state-owned enterprises, with the result that many survive on government handouts.

President Robert Mugabe has also appointed retired military personnel to key directorship positions in the parastatals to influence their policies. Observers argue that their presence could lead to directives from the coalition government being ignored.

Moyo responded: “It would be unfortunate if the parastatals choose to defy the law and Cabinet, as these reforms have no underlying political agenda but only serve national interests.”