HARARE (Reuters) - It’s not just Wall Street or London’s Square Mile where “fat cat” salaries trigger banner headlines and howls of outrage from activists and lawmakers.
In cash-strapped and deeply impoverished Zimbabwe, newspapers have kept their readers riveted for weeks with revelations about managers of state-owned firms pocketing millions of dollars in pay while the economy stagnates.
Some analysts suggest the government may be letting the stories run to distract the public from the parlous state of the broader economy.
But the revelations have also tapped into genuine concern in the ruling party about the money soaked up by perennially loss-making state companies.
Amid a rising chorus of public anger, President Robert Mugabe’s government this week pressured a health insurer that covers government employees to oust chief executive Cuthbert Dube.
Dube earned a monthly base salary of $230,000, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament - more than 600 times the $370 average for a government worker.
Documents seen by Reuters showed Dube’s Premier Service Medical Society had debts of $38 million but 14 managers were paid nearly half the firm’s $33 million salary bill last year.
Dube declined to comment.
In a rare moment of political unity, Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are calling for the worst offenders to be dismissed and arrested for abusing public funds at the parastatals, as they are known.
“An exercise has started through the office of the President and Cabinet to investigate the remuneration given to all parastatals,” Chinamasa told MPs this week.
At the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), the nation’s only broadcaster and a loyal Mugabe mouthpiece, chief executive Happison Muchechetere was suspended by the government in December after workers went seven months without pay.
Before his removal, Muchechetere was receiving $40,000 a month in pay and perks, while other executives drew hefty weekly allowances and had most of their bills paid by the ZBC, according to interim results of a government investigation.
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo labeled some of the payments “disguised theft” at a press conference this week.
A copy of Muchechetere’s contract printed in the state-owned Herald newspaper on Wednesday fuelled the growing outrage.
It showed ZBC paid for his fuel, local holidays and four house-maids. The company also gave him an unlimited entertainment allowance and a housing stipend even after it had paid off his mortgage, according to the paper.
Muchechetere could not be reached for comment. He told a privately-owned radio station after his suspension last month that he was “not bothered” by the accusations.
Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni suspended the capital’s town clerk on Thursday after a council salary schedule leaked to the local press showed he was on a base monthly salary of $37,000.
“The government would rather see this go on for a while because for a moment it takes the focus off the economy which is in all sorts of problems,” Harare-based economist, John Robertson, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, most city workers have not received their December wages, while the capital’s 1.2 million residents endure a daily grind of burst sewers, water shortages, power cuts and bone-jarring pot-holes.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley and Andrew Heavens