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EDITORIAL COMMENT: Forex Covid allowances yet another smart move


The Herald

The decision by the Government to pay the US$75 a month Covid-19 allowance in US dollars, rather than convert them to Zimbabwe dollars at the latest auction rate, is a smart move and should be welcomed by the civil servants.

Despite the huge advances in stabilising the financial side of the Zimbabwean economy while pushing high growth in the actual productive side, it is a fact that some suppliers, especially in the petroleum and informal sectors, usually require foreign currency and that others, such as many in the medical and hardware sectors, use the black market rate when accepting local currency.

Almost every Zimbabwean requires at some stage to find some foreign currency, whether to buy gas, petrol, medicines at an acceptable price, or even pay an avaricious landlord.

The monthly inflation, while resuming its decline, is not yet at the levels that would give us single figure annual inflation, the present target, so anyone wanting to keep a bit of cash-in-hand for emergencies often prefers to hang on to this in US dollars as even with the rising American inflation this tends to preserve value.

The fact that the bonus payments meant that the Government payment systems needed to be adjusted to cope with double payments to all civil servants and Government pensioners, and that everyone getting a bonus now needed two bank accounts for local and foreign currency, meant that the system is not in place.

And banks, after the attempts by some last month to gouge the civil servants were shot down, should be resigned to getting a modest income from small charges on the huge volumes of transactions, rather than trying to take vast sums from their customers.

The decision also reflects the growing availability of foreign currency. The economic fundamentals have been in place since early in the Second Republic, inflows of foreign currency exceeding outflows, and more importantly the value of exports exceeding the value of imports.

The Government has its own sources of foreign currency, the taxes it collects on foreign currency business transactions now being the biggest, but some of the customs duties have to be paid in foreign currency.

Efforts by businesses to hide their foreign currency transactions and pretend they are all in local currency have been progressively attacked, so the Government wins.

One consistent position of the Second Republic has been to be open with its workers, and to share the gains with them.

Things were tight when the Government had to end the old system of devoting almost all revenue to salaries. That was not sustainable.

A civil service needs to do a lot more than just exist, and what it does positively costs money, which also has to come out of taxes.

But after the fiscal reforms that brought the budget in balance and allowed the Government to buy the medical supplies and the like people needed, while starting the programmes to pull vast numbers out of poverty and build up the infrastructure, civil servants have been in the front row.

The Government salary bill is still the largest budget item, although now in its proper place. This means that as tax revenues rise, the Government is quite happy to pass on the salary share of the new money to its civil servants. The needed adjustments were made at the beginning and since then everybody gets their share of the resulting win.

The interesting point of paying people out of the Government share of gross national product, and that is what taxes actually are, is that as the country develops and the economy grows the Government revenue rises in real terms.

This means that the salary share of Government spending also rises. In fact it is likely that some of the movement we are seeing is a direct result of that growth of more than 7 percent last year.

The Government is also looking at other benefits, in effect capitalising some civil servants benefits. These include a degree of priority in the national housing programme, on the basis that the largest single group of workers automatically qualify for their fair share of that programme, and other benefits.

The payments are also likely to have an interesting effect on the fairly small black market. First a lot of civil servants cease being serious customers of the dealers.

They have their own currency and can even save a bit each month for larger items if there is a significant discount in paying in foreign currency.

Secondly some will want to convert this to local currency, to spend on those things where there is no price differential, but are prepared to arbitrage the exchange rates by finding a dealer ready to buy their notes.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya sighed over this last month, but it is human nature and that is hard to defeat.

The net result is lower demand for foreign currency on the black market and greater supply, and despite the manipulations that must have an effect.

We saw this to a degree last month when the usual prophets of doom were predicting that the rate would soar on the black market. It did not. And a lot of the reason is that the civil servants did not have to do anything clever with their bonus money since it was already in foreign currency.

So the decision for paying this modest allowance to civil servants and the Government pensioners in foreign currency comes with benefits to both them and the country, and shows that the Government is doing its best for its own staff, although not prepared to wreck the economy again to do that, and that we can move forward, step-by-step, to our brighter future.



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