BY MOSES MATENGA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government says it will set up subsidised grocery shops in army barracks to cushion restive members of the uniformed forces from the rising cost of living, but made no indication of how it intends to solve the wider crisis.
Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with a critical shortage of hard currency triggering increases in prices of basic goods, shortages of medicine and fuel. The country is also experiencing rolling power cuts that have decimated industry as hopes of economic recovery under President Emmerson Mnangagwa continue to fade and poverty worsening.
Our sister paper, the Zimbabwe Independent reported earlier this month that morale among the rank and file of the security forces was very low as a result of economic hardships and unfulfilled promises since the army toppled long time ruler, the late Robert Mugabe in November 2017 and propelled Mnangagwa to power.
In what critics say was an attempt to appease members of the armed forces agitated with the crisis, threatening the fragile
peace that has existed since the coup, Information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa told journalists after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that government had resolved to set up ‘garrison shops’ for security forces to acquire cheaper goods.
“…Garrison shops be established to enable all members of the defence forces who will be on the GEMS fund (Government Employees Mutual Services Fund) to have the additional benefit of accessing subsidised basic commodities that will be sold in the specialised shops located within cantonment areas,” Mutsvangwa said.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube added that the facility will not only benefit members of the forces within the cantonment areas, but also those staying outside.
“They can only access those coupons once a month to buy those goods so they can be in these cantonments or outside, it doesn’t matter,” Ncube said.
On why only members of the uniformed forces while the rest of the country was suffering including thousands of civil servants, Ncube said it was a global norm that such facilities be found in barracks and they will be silo shops for nurses, teachers and other government workers.
“It is a global norm and we will not be the first to do that. Uniformed forces have such shops in cantonment areas as part of their service benefits. For the teachers, there are silo shops and there must be subsidised. These shops have not been rolled out fast enough for teachers, nurses but it will with time,” Ncube said.
Government also said it will establish a Civil Service Mutual Savings Fund that will see 2,5% being deducted from salaries of its workers and allow them to borrow using the facility.
“Government will provide a lump sum injection of ZW$100 million for the fund. Two and half percent of the total remuneration will be deducted from every government employee in
consultation with the Public Service Commission,” Mutsvangwa said.
Ncube added that the programme will protect civil servants from loan sharks and was alive to the facts of the daily needs especially in the inflationary environment.
“They have needs now and they borrow from loan sharks, so the solution is that we should create this fund and capitalise it to the tune of $100 million. We think this is a good figure and for them to benefit from borrowing, they should also contribute and we worked it out to 2,5%. That will then allow them access to a certain level of credit, of borrowing,” he said.
Ncube said there was flexibility on the facility and after contributing, the civil servants can opt out and get their contributions with interests.
For members of the uniformed forces, Ncube said there was already a facility that allows them to benefit from some funds as part of their benefits.
A steering committee comprising the Public Service Commission, Ministry of Finance and the Office of the President and Cabinet will soon be established to decide on modalities of the fund.
On maize, government also pegged the price on ZWL$6958 per tonne to encourage deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board.