Broke Zimbabwe starts sacking government employees due to lack of funds

Nearly half of all state agriculture department staff are being fired, and posts elsewhere have been frozen.

Zimbabwe, which hasn’t been able to pay its more than 300 000 state workers on time this year, will start firing employees at its agriculture ministry as it seeks to trim a civil service whose wages absorb more than 80% of government revenue.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper on Wednesday reported that 8 252 posts at the ministry, or 43% of its workforce, have been abolished, citing the Public Service Commission, which oversees government departments.

The government has ordered a freeze on hiring and promotions in all departments, a finance ministry document obtained by Bloomberg shows.

“We’re aware of the recommendations that were made by the Public Service Commission because we had oral evidence from the permanent secretary who told us they were going to lay off workers, but we did not know that it was going to be this huge number,” said Goodluck Kwaramba, the chairperson of Zimbabwe’s parliamentary portfolio committee for public service and labour.

Zimbabwe missed a self-imposed June deadline to pay arrears of $1.8-billion to lending institutions as it seeks to get financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the African Development Bank, a process that can only resume when its debts are paid.

The economy has halved in size since 2000, a shortage of cash has seen withdrawals limited from ATMs and the economy is suffering deflation because of a plunge in consumer demand.

“This retrenchment is part of the re-engagement effort with the IMF,” said Prosper Chitambara, an economist at the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute.

Calls to the commission and to Deputy Agriculture Minister Paddy Zhanda weren’t answered when Bloomberg sought comment. Questions emailed to the commission weren’t answered.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean opposition groups plan to hold a joint protest rally on Friday to demand changes in the electoral system to guarantee that general elections scheduled for 2018 are free and fair.

Sponsors of the demonstration in Harare include Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, former vice-president Joice Mujuru, who leads the Zimbabwe People First party, and opposition figures Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube, according to Tsvangirai and a spokesman for Mujuru’s party.

Opponents of President Robert Mugabe are demanding that they have access to the voters’ roll and that the electoral commission becomes an independent body and is no longer under the authority of the justice ministry. “We need confidence in the electoral system,” Tsvangirai said on Monday. “Right now that doesn’t exist.”

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has agreed to a $2.7-billion deal with companies from Austria and China to upgrade the country’s busiest road linking South Africa with countries to the north. The contract was agreed with Geiger International of Austria and the state-owned China Harbour Engineering Company, Transport Minister Joram Gumbo said this week.

The companies will operate a 20-year concession for the stretch of road from Beitbridge to Harare, and the renewal of the northern section to Chirundu will be funded with loans from the private sector, he said.

The highway has fallen into disrepair as heavy-duty trucks use it to transport everything from maize to mining and power-plant equipment from South Africa and other parts of the continent.

The renewal of the Plumtree-Mutare road, which runs from Zimbabwe’s western to eastern borders, was completed at a cost of about $3-billion last year by South Africa’s Group Five.

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