ZIMBABWE – The Zimbabwean government is battling to pay the bulk of its civil service as the country’s economy continues to flounder.

In the recent past, the civil service could always expect to be paid salaries on time – with even the prospect of a 13th cheque – but that has not been the case this year.

Finance and economic development minister Patrick Chinamasa this week said: “Treasury advises that the December 2015 salary payment date for the education sector is being moved from December 28, 2015 [Monday], to December 29, 2015 [Tuesday].

“Furthermore, Treasury advises that the December 2015 salary payment date for the rest of the public service is also being moved from December 29, 2015, to January 5, 2015.Treasury sincerely regrets all the inconveniences caused.”

Lately, the taxman, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), has been coming down hard on companies to remit taxes on time in a bid to secure money to help pay the civil service bill.

Chinamasa told Senate last week that he had ordered all revenue collecting institutions to open accounts with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe by the end of January.

But Zimbabwean teachers have threatened unspecified action in the coming year over the salaries and bonus discords.

The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) secretary-general John Mlilo said following a meeting they had held with stakeholders last week, that teachers would not be responsible for any actions they take in the coming year, with there being talk of industrial action.

He said uncertainty about the December 2015 bonus pay dates and reluctance by the government to uphold and act on the promise made by President Robert Mugabe that all civil servants would get bonuses were some of the contributing factors to their grievances.

Mlilo said a further aggravation was the intention of government to introduce further deductions in the form of national health schemes and maternity schemes on educators’ meagre earnings, “a thing that has been totally rejected, as the existing meagre incomes cannot sustain any more deductions”.

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) described the situation as “a circus”, saying they were greatly saddened by the latest developments.

“The ZDHA maintains that the ill treatment by the employer through uncertain pay dates and violation of contractual obligations is a violation of the labour laws of this country and is also grossly inhumane and insensitive. The shifting of paydays and bonus payment for health workers . . . is a resemblance of the greatest acceptance of failure by the responsible authorities,” ZHDA said.

The association threatened a nationwide strike if their salaries have not been by December 31, saying “No December salary, no 2015 bonus, no free doctor”.

Former Education minister David Coltart has called for Mugabe to cut short his holiday in the Far East and return home “to sort this mess”.

He said Mugabe could not afford to be on holiday while Zimbabwe was burning, with civil servants unpaid and hunger stalking most communities.

During his Independence Day speech in April, Mugabe declared that civil servants would get their bonuses, this barely a week after Chinamasa had said he had suspended the 13th cheque for 2015 and 2016 owing to a liquidity crunch.

“I want to make it clear that the report which was in the newspapers that bonuses were being withdrawn is not government policy,” Mugabe said back then.

“The Cabinet did not approve that at all and the Presidency was never consulted on the matter. We were never consulted the three of us, that is myself and the two Vice-Presidents [Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko] and we say that is disgusting to us and it will never be implemented at all.”

Chinamasa is now currently under pressure to raise the money.

Reports suggest public service minister Prisca Mupfumira has since clashed with the Treasury chief, following the shifting of payment dates.

Mupfumira has also said there was nothing as yet to brief the Apex Council ‑ the civil service umbrella body ‑ because “the government does not have the money [to pay]”.