JUSTICE minister Ziyambi Ziyambi yesterday assured Parliament that government is hoping to further increase civil servants’ salaries to cushion them from the rising cost of living.
Responding to different questions on the economic situation in the country in the National Assembly, Ziyambi told MPs that government was in the process of setting up people’s shops to compete with established businesses which were increasing prices in order to match the high exchange rate of the United States dollar to the RTGS dollar.
The lowest paid civil servants earn around ZWL$300 and their unions have petitioned Parliament, demanding a salary hike of more than ZWL$3 500 of which $200 must be in US$.
“Yes, prices are going up daily, but the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Industry are negotiating with businesses to ensure they do not continue to escalate.
“In the past, we used price controls, but we notice that they do not work and so we as government have decided to set up people’s shops to compete with businesses so that they sell cheaper goods,” Ziyambi said.
Highfields East MP Eric Murai (MDC Alliance) then asked him how the people’s shops will sustain their cheap prices given that fuel and other costs forcing businesses to increase prices will also affect them.
“Fuel is not the only thing that determines prices. Government’s task is to formulate policies and so we learnt that price controls do not work and we said we should increase production and sell cheaper goods at people’s shops so that people shun buying from businesses that want to profiteer,” Ziyambi said in response.
Norton MP Temba Mliswa (independent) then asked Ziyambi to explain how civil servants will afford to buy from those people’s shops given that their salaries were very low and did not match with the prices of goods.
“You are correct to say that, but government is in the process of negotiating with civil servants with a view to further increase their salaries. As to the private sector, indeed, it is worrisome that prices are going up, but employers are not giving their employees corresponding salary increases. What is happening is that prices of goods and services are going up yet salaries are stagnant, but soon we will have a salary structure to cushion civil servants,” Ziyambi said.
A few months ago, government increased salaries of civil servants by a mere $28 for the lowest paid worker.
Further asked by Zaka North MP Robson Mavenyengwa (Zanu PF) to explain if government will consider removing duty on groceries for people that choose to purchase them from neighbouring countries, Ziyambi vaguely responded: “Those that have money to buy groceries from outside the country can do so.”
In an unrelated matter, Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya (MDC Alliance) asked Ziyambi to explain government’s rationale of purchasing anti-riot gear at a time when hospitals had no medicines and the social sectors were deteriorating.
Chikwinya wanted to know if it was an admission by government that something was wrong.
“A budget for the police was laid in this House for those expenses and I am surprised that the MP is indicating that there is an expenditure that Parliament did not have oversight on when it was proposed in this House,” Ziyambi said.
He was further asked by Kambuzuma MP Willias Madzimure (MDC Alliance) to explain the criteria used to compensate business people that lost their goods during the January violent demonstrations.
“Businessmen that lost their goods were compensated, but is government going to compensate people that lost their lives because a majority of them were innocent people caught in the crossfire?” he asked.
“Businesspeople that had their goods destroyed were given loans to rebuild their businesses. As for those that lost their lives, an inquest is still being done and we are still seized with that matter,” the Justice minister said.