Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa could be seeing off his last days at the Finance and Economic Development Ministry after he was rebuked by Cabinet for sneaking austerity measures into his mid-term fiscal policy review statement presented last week notwithstanding rejection of that course of action by the highest organ in government, chaired by President Robert Mugabe.
Chinamasa, who is leading re-engagement talks between Zimbabwe and its multilateral creditors as a stepping stone towards getting fresh funding to oil illiquid markets, came up with a raft of measures in his mid-term fiscal review in order to tame runaway consumptive behaviour in government.
Part of his measures, which sparked an uproar in the restive civil service, entailed the suspension of the thirteenth cheque, salary cuts and the rationalisation of the bloated public service, whose employment costs take up more than 90 percent of the National Budget.
But before the ink was dry on his statement, Cabinet released a statement through the Ministry of Information, calling Chinamasa to order.Christopher Mushohwe, the Information Minister, highlighted on Tuesday that while the measures unveiled by Chinamasa had been tabled before Cabinet, the Finance Minister had rushed to announce them while overlooking those measures rejected earlier on.
It is the second time Chinamasa has been humiliated in public for moving to streamline costs to match the rapid loss of fiscal space without getting the green light from his principals.
The first time was towards the end of last year when he froze bonus payments until 2017, citing poor revenue performance.
He had to beat a hasty retreat after President Mugabe rebuked him for denying civil servants what the veteran politician called “their right”.
ZANU-PF insiders told the Financial Gazette that Chinamasa’s days at the Finance Ministry could be numbered because he has become more of “a square peg in a round hole”.
They said the Treasury chief’s thinking was no longer in synch with that of his colleagues regarding how the country’s economy could be turned around.The impression the run-ins are creating, according to the insiders, is that Chinamasa’s policies are inclined towards appeasing the Bretton Woods institutions, namely the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, whereas the ruling ZANU-PF party is pursuing a “Look East policy”.
The Look East policy was adopted by the ruling party to spite Britain and its allies in the West for penalising the country’s leadership with targeted sanctions for their role in seizing commercial farms from the white minority for redistribution to ZANU-PF as well as the campaign of violence that marred elections held between 2000 and 2009.
The timing of the rejected measures has worsened Chinamasa’s situation, coming as they did when President Mugabe is battling protests by citizens disgruntled with his rule.With elections only less than two years away, mandarins in ZANU-PF believe that doing away with bonuses and whittling down numbers in the civil service when emotions are running high would simply add fuel to the fire.
ZANU-PF insiders said Chinamasa’s “gaffe” may precipitate a Cabinet reshuffle that might result in his re-assignment.Before joining the Finance Ministry, Chinamasa, a trained lawyer, had distinguished himself as justice minister and attorney general.With revenues southward bound, Chinamasa has no legroom to manoeuvre in funding the National Budget in the absence of balance of payments support.
In order to create fiscal space, it is inevitable that government must cut its cloth according to its size, unless if it prints huge quantities of bond notes to expunge its liabilities.Government is due to introduce bond notes next month. Initially, the bond notes were said to be for rewarding exporters although indications are that even non exporters will now be making use of this surrogate currency.
Former finance minister, Tendai Biti, said Chinamasa should resign and go farming.Biti claimed this week that Chinamasa had approached the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs before presenting his mid-term fiscal review, which okayed his measures.
“What is happening shows a state of dysfunction in government. They must all resign from government and pave the way for a transitional authority,” he said.
Analysts were this week sympathetic to Chinamasa.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, a political commentator, said while Chinamasa may want to resign, the culture that has been created in government does not allow him to do that.
“In ZANU-PF, you do not resign because you humiliate the appointing authority. In ZANU-PF, you are fired, demoted or suspended. Resigning has not been the culture in ZANU-PF. It has happened in a few cases, such as the former minister of industry and commerce, Nkosana Moyo, and the former minister of education, Edmund Garwe; but generally in ZANU-PF, people don’t resign,” said Ruhanya.
He said the twists and turns were a result of conflict between the will to transform and the will for power, whereby the will for power has subrogated the will to transform.
“Chinamasa has been trying to transform the economy but his other colleagues are not interested… There is need to take hard decisions in this economy and this is what Chinamasa is trying to do. Chinamasa is doing his best. His policies are for the greater good of the State and the people. There has to be sacrifices for the good of the State. This is what Chinamasa stands for. Those who oppose him are myopic,” said Ruhanya.
Political analyst, Alois Masepe, said the Finance Minister was simply applying economic logic because there is no money to fund the bonuses.
“There is nobody who does not know that government does not have money to sustain the current employment levels. It’s reality; you don’t need a King Solomon for that.
“These are trying times and Chinamasa is trying to employ survival tactics, which does not throw people on the streets,” said Masepe.
“He came up with a creative formula and it’s important to have a survival kit which alleviates suffering and not throwing people into the streets. On the other hand, Mushowe is talking politics. He pretends that everything is alright when it’s not,” he added.
Masepe said ZANU-PF was already in electioneering mode and would not want to do anything that might cost it votes.In the last election, the party promised to create more than two million jobs but now they are presiding over unemployment and under employment.
“They are playing political games. What they do is to create a convenient fall guy or the whipping boy, who in this case is Chinamasa and within the same government, they create a hero from that despondency, that is Mushowe. So as long as Chinamasa is not fired, it’s all a political game,” opined Masepe.
Political scientist, Eldred Masunungure is convinced Chinamasa did not defy Cabinet, but the development was a reversal of the Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review Statement.
“I think the party and government were compelled by the circumstances to reverse that. So that was not an act of defiance by Chinamasa. “In fact there is a clash of two rationalities. The first one is the economic rationale and the other is the political one which has to deal with political survival. When the two clash, the economic rationale is sacrificed. That’s the dynamics at play given that the timing was quite bad as we are moving toward the 2018 elections. Civil servants were prepared to have their voice head in elections. So ZANU-PF is not prepared to have that,” said Masunungure.