Civil servants have for ages been grappling with making ends meet as can be evidenced by the many complaints they always raise. Recently, Nick Mangwana, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services tweeted something. His tweet read as follows: “Starting immediately, the government will pay an equivalent US$500 in funeral assistance for any civil servant who passes away. This is regardless of any funeral policy the member may have. The money is paid to a surviving spouse, adult children, or agreed dependent”. As can be expected, the tweet roused the public to make wide-ranging comments.

Remarks By Labour Minister

Paul Mavima, the Labour Minister had this to say about the US$500 civil servant funeral assistance: “If it was talking about people who have died in the line of duty, maybe due to COVID-19 being compensated through the surviving family, it is a completely different framework from the continuous improvement on the working conditions of the rest of the civil servants. If we are talking about how many people have died due to COVID-19, we are talking of just a few people, we are talking about once-off payments, we are talking about in addition to what they normally get, which is pensions of those people. Someone who has died in the line of duty, and we are just increasing the benefits because in this particular case there is a pandemic and people need to be compensated. We have even compensated people who have just contracted COVID-19 and I think it’s proper.”

The Assistance Is Indirect

I am not sure of the rationale behind this development but it is weird I must say. Civil servants have made clarion calls for a long time on getting better remuneration. In earnest, the work they do and the salaries they get are seriously divorced. It is not reasonable to have a framework whereby a civil servant only, indirectly, gets financial assistance after they have passed on. Why not now when they are still alive? That is where the major bone of contention is. Funeral assistance does not really benefit the civil service because they will be dead by then. The other issue is that it is conditioned on a civil servant dying. If a civil servant does not die then that money will never get to the respective families. Just looking at that whole framework you can see that it leaves a lot to be desired. There are lots of variables at play when it comes to civil servants remuneration but something really has to be done.

A Follow-up Tweet By Nick Mangwana

Later on, after realizing that people were not gullible regarding the offer, Nick Mangwana tweeted the following: “We hope no colleague within the civil service has died or is going to die today. But should that tragic event happen, as a compassionate bereavement response, the government will give them a ZWL$ equivalent of US$500 for funeral assistance? This comes in handy for the bereaved family.”

A Comparative Look At What Teachers Earn

Let me cite some examples to paint a picture for you. In South Africa, teachers earn a monthly average of over R30000 – a yearly average of over R390000. In the USA, the annual teacher salary average is US$75000. In Switzerland, the annual teacher salary average is over US$100000 – the highest globally. In Zimbabwe, the government says it can only afford a monthly average of US$175 – though they will not be getting it in US dollars as it were. Had it not been for the US$75 COVID-19 allowance we would be looking at just US$100. Currently, teachers are getting US$40 – in RTGS i.e. it is not in US dollars. Teachers feel that if they get a monthly average of at least US$500 that would be reasonable – at least US$6000 annually. Ironically, that will still be way too low compared to other countries. Civil servants definitely have a valid case.

As always I will highlight that the government’s biggest headache is the civil service wage bill. One, it is too big – imagine earning US$100 per month and at least US$80 of that goes to paying the maid and gardener. That analogy best illustrates what it is like for the treasury in Zimbabwe. The biggest chunk of government expenditure is the civil service wage bill. Thus they know that if they increase it that would spell trouble for the economy. At the same time, they cannot lay off civil servants willy-nilly. The culmination of it all is a Catch-22 situation. However, civil servants still deserve appropriate remuneration.