Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s long holiday in Dubai has brought the country to a standstill with his government now blaming the ageing leader’s absence for its failure to pay civil servants their 2015 bonuses.
Public Service minister Prisca Mupfumira recently told the increasingly impatient civil servants that a position on their outstanding bonuses would only be known after Mugabe returns home.
We expect Zimbabwe to remain a net corn (maize) importer over the longer term
“We don’t have a date yet (for payment of bonuses),” she said. “When we get a date, we will advise and, as you know, Cabinet is on recess and we might only meet maybe next week, that is when we will discuss some of those issues”.
The bonuses were due in November last year but the government says it is too broke to pay its workers the 13th cheque. Last month salaries for civil servants delayed by over two weeks as the broke government scrambled to raise money.
Mugabe and his family left Zimbabwe a few days before Christmas and he is expected back home anytime soon. His two deputies have been taking turns to act in his position but they have no authority to chair Cabinet meetings.
Traditionally most of the ministers take their annual leave in January to coincide with Mugabe’s usually one month long break, which he spends in foreign countries.
However, the latest excursion by Mugabe and his family has drawn the ire of critics who say the country, which is facing one of the severest droughts in history, cannot afford to foot his holiday bills.
The soon to be 92 year-old ruler has also been urged to cut the holiday short to deal with the multifaceted crisis facing Zimbabwe’s economy.
One of the opposition parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said Mugabe’s decision to go on leave at a time when his country needed him the most showed that his government was not worried about problems facing Zimbabwe.
“The fact of the matter is that Mugabe and his Zanu PF government have failed,” PDP said in a statement. “The Zanu PF government must resign as a matter of urgency so that a national transitional authority (NTA) is put in place.”
“The NTA will implement an economic recovery plan, harmonise the country’s laws to the Constitution, restoration of the social contract, and ensure that there is peace in the country while conditions for holding free and fair elections are put in place,” PDP added.
Mugabe’s deputies, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, also took turns to visit him in Dubai for private briefings, which critics complained was a waste of money.
When Zimbabwe’s long time ruler eventually resumes his duties, he will have a lot on his hands.
Analysts say he has to urgently tackle civil servants outstanding 2015 bonuses, devise strategies to mobilise food aid in the face of a crippling drought and procurement of medicines that are in short supply at public hospitals.
The country’s major public hospitals have been hit by an acute shortage of drugs. The situation is likely to persist for the next two months as the National Pharmaceutical Company awaits the completion of the tendering process to replenish its stocks. The hospitals are now giving patients prescriptions to buy medicine from private pharmacies, which most find expensive.
Meanwhile, a United Kingdom-based research group, BMI Research, has predicted that Zimbabwe will remain a net importer of maize until at least 2020, as the country battles to overcome serious challenges in the agricultural sector.
“We expect Zimbabwe to remain a net corn (maize) importer over the longer term,” BMI Research said in its report released last week. “Over the next five years, we expect production of the grain to demonstrate moderate growth, although production will remain well below the totals seen in the early 2000s.”
Zimbabwe’s agriculture industry collapsed after Mugabe’s government embarked on a controversial land reform programme that triggered the collapse of the agro-based economy.