Zimbabwe cracks down on ‘ghost workers’ with ID system

By on 05/12/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Photo of Nthuli Ncube by International Monetary Fund, Flickr

Zimbabwe’s government has announced its intention to create an identity register of all civil servants and cut the pay of top officials, in a bid to squeeze its huge wage bill.

Speaking before the Zimbabwean parliament last week, minister of finance and economic development Mthuli Ncube unveiled a plan to introduce biometric registration of all civil servants from 1 January. Explaining the reason for the move, Ncube said: “Previous civil service audits undertaken by government, in 2011 and 2015 respectively, point to possible existence of ghost workers in the service, who are contributing to the burgeoning public service wage bill which accounts for over 90% of total revenues.”

New registration arrangements will include capturing data on letters of appointment, academic and professional qualifications, national identification documents, employment code numbers and biometric data. The latter will include the fingerprints, DNA, iris and retina patterns of every official within government, Ncube said.

Pay cut at the top

Ncube also announced a 5% pay cut for senior civil servants, affecting all principal directors and permanent secretaries, ministers and deputy ministers, and the basic salaries of chief executives and executive directors in state-owned enterprises and grant-aided institutions.

Arguing that “it is critical that we reduce public spending on employment costs,” Ncube announced that the pay cut will be accompanied by a mechanism to remove unfair pay levels and disparities between officials of equivalent seniority.

The Opposition MDC party criticised the pay cut as inadequate, with spokesman Jacob Mafume telling Zimbabwe’s NewsDay website that “the token reduction of 5% from the salaries of the well-heeled is so measly it will not make any positive impact.”

Embassy cuts and privatisations

In addition, Ncube announced that the country will reduce the number of foreign missions it operates, “thereby optimising the utility value realised from the remaining missions as well as avoiding accumulation of arrears and embarrassing evictions of our diplomats.” Zimbabwe currently has a diplomatic presence at 46 embassies and consulates, staffed by around 581 staff and costing around US$65m each year.

Other measures in the Budget include the continued enforcement of the government’s policy of retiring government officials above the age of 65, and proposals to privatise at least five public enterprises: communications companies TelOne, Net-One, Telecel, and ZIMPOST, plus the POSB bank. Ncube said the sales should realise proceeds of at least US$350 million.

Squeezing the 12% deficit

The primary objective of the 2019 Budget, Ncube said, “is to stabilise the economy by targeting the ‘twin deficits’ of fiscal and current account, which have become major sources of overall economic vulnerabilities, including inflation, a sharp rise in indebtedness, accumulation of arrears and foreign currency shortages.”

The government’s 2019 budget deficit is projected at US$2.86bn –11.7% of Zimbabwe’s GDP – against a target of US$793 million, Ncube said.

In September, Global Government Forum reported that Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa had pushed out many long-serving senior civil servants, appointing 18 new permanent secretaries in a wide-ranging reshuffle. Ncube, 55, a former chief economist and vice president at the African Development Bank, was appointed as finance minister in the same month.

About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited PublicTechnology.net, local government finance publication Room151.co.uk and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.

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