Obsessed with the wrong numbers

A sad tale has been told for a very long time — that Zimbabwe’s civil service gobbles about 80 percent of revenue. The corresponding truth — that only 20 percent remains for capitalisation — has been met with an uncomfortable silence.

Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa indicated in the 2015 Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Statement that ideally, the civil service wage bill shouldn’t exceed 40 percent, a far cry from our current expenditure.

A solution to this scenario has been proffered too, that of staff rationalisation so that the nation saves close to US$400 million annually.

Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira embarked on this unenviable mission months back. She has had to superintend over a civil service audit, has had to remove some ghost workers here and there, has had to attract the ire of the affected.

There have been casualties. Some people had to say goodbye. Duplicated roles had to be abolished. Student teachers’ allowances had to be cut.

Hard decisions had to be made.

But that is as far as I go in agreeing with the civil service rationalisation exercise.

If we are looking at improving the staff-revenue ratio, we have two options.

The easy route entails simply trimming the wage bill, and boom, the nation’s bottom line will automatically improve.

However, this will not create wealth for the country in the long-term because the lean workforce will make likewise lean contributions towards the fiscus.

The other option would be to sacrifice the little that we have to build a stronger revenue base.

The civil service should facilitate wealth generation for Zimbabwe, with a thrust geared towards per capita revenue generation where each employee contributes towards his/her own salary and then some.

With the going getting tough for most organisations over the last couple of years, many have been tempted into letting go some employees.

This, at least according to me, is equal to cutting off the hands that are supposed to generate revenue.

The laws of economics will not allow us to make small investments and then expect to reap big; it simply does not work that way.

A high staff-revenue ratio, as is the case with Zimbabwe, is a disease that cannot be cured by retrenchment or freezing posts.

Rather, those two medicines can only suppress the disease for so long, only for it to re-emerge in much more lethal form. We do not want that as a nation.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be looking at short-term relief strategies.

What we should be looking at are ways to generate more revenue.

As of July 1, 2015, there were 20 801 vacant posts in the civil service, there could be more by now.

In other words, people who are qualified to take this ship out of these murky waters are sitting at home while the nation is pre-occupied with making short-term savings at the expense of tapping into their skills and growing revenue.

If we want staff costs to go below 40 percent of revenue, we need to allow those unemployed youths to pay back the revenue invested in their education by working for the country.

That is of course unless we believe that employees are only there to collect salaries, instead of creating revenue.

Are we not doing ourselves a disservice, keeping all those posts frozen when so much energy is being expended on the streets through anti-Government protests?

Imagine how much revenue those idle youths could be generating with all that wasted energy if they were to be absorbed into the civil service.

While the recruitment of nurses and relief teachers is on hold, is it not the quality of our health and education system that we are now compromising as the available staff now have to make do with bloated classes and a very high nurse-patient ratio?

We sink deeper into our obsession with numbers.

What we chose to forget is that the targeted US$400 million annual saving will not be a profit per se; it will never be there for us to touch and feel.

Methinks it makes more economic sense to use those few resources to generate the US$4 billion that we need for our National Budget and then double or even triple it.

A sad tale has been told for a very long time — that Zimbabwe’s civil service gobbles about 80 percent of revenue.

The corresponding truth — that only 20 percent remains for capitalisation — has been met with an uncomfortable silence. Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa indicated in the 2015 Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Statement that ideally, the civil service wage bill shouldn’t exceed 40 percent, a far cry from our current expenditure.

A solution to this scenario has been proffered too, that of staff rationalisation so that the nation saves close to US$400 million annually.Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira embarked on this unenviable mission months back. She has had to superintend over a civil service audit, has had to remove some ghost workers here and there, has had to attract the ire of the affected.

There have been casualties. Some people had to say goodbye. Duplicated roles had to be abolished. Student teachers’ allowances had to be cut.Hard decisions had to be made.But that is as far as I go in agreeing with the civil service rationalisation exercise.If we are looking at improving the staff-revenue ratio, we have two options.

The easy route entails simply trimming the wage bill, and boom, the nation’s bottom line will automatically improve.However, this will not create wealth for the country in the long-term because the lean workforce will make likewise lean contributions towards the fiscus.

The other option would be to sacrifice the little that we have to build a stronger revenue base.

The civil service should facilitate wealth generation for Zimbabwe, with a thrust geared towards per capita revenue generation where each employee contributes towards his/her own salary and then some.With the going getting tough for most organisations over the last couple of years, many have been tempted into letting go some employees.

This, at least according to me, is equal to cutting off the hands that are supposed to generate revenue.

The laws of economics will not allow us to make small investments and then expect to reap big; it simply does not work that way.  A high staff-revenue ratio, as is the case with Zimbabwe, is a disease that cannot be cured by retrenchment or freezing posts.

Rather, those two medicines can only suppress the disease for so long, only for it to re-emerge in much more lethal form. We do not want that as a nation.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be looking at short-term relief strategies.

What we should be looking at are ways to generate more revenue.As of July 1, 2015, there were 20 801 vacant posts in the civil service, there could be more by now.In other words, people who are qualified to take this ship out of these murky waters are sitting at home while the nation is pre-occupied with making short-term savings at the expense of tapping into their skills and growing revenue.

If we want staff costs to go below 40 percent of revenue, we need to allow those unemployed youths to pay back the revenue invested in their education by working for the country.

That is of course unless we believe that employees are only there to collect salaries, instead of creating revenue.Are we not doing ourselves a disservice, keeping all those posts frozen when so much energy is being expended on the streets through anti-Government protests?

Imagine how much revenue those idle youths could be generating with all that wasted energy if they were to be absorbed into the civil service. While the recruitment of nurses and relief teachers is on hold, is it not the quality of our health and education system that we are now compromising as the available staff now have to make do with bloated classes and a very high nurse-patient ratio?

We sink deeper into our obsession with numbers.What we chose to forget is that the targeted US$400 million annual saving will not be a profit per se; it will never be there for us to touch and feel.Methinks it makes more economic sense to use those few resources to generate the US$4 billion that we need for our National Budget and then double or even triple it.

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