By Thomas Chiripasi & Blessing Zulu
Harare & Washington
18 February 2009
Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti on Wednesday announced his first major policy step in announcing that the government has begun paying civil servants ranging from soldiers to teachers a US$100 monthly supplement to their nearly worthless Zimbabwe dollar wages.
Biti's move represented a down payment on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's promise in his inaugural speech one week ago that the government would start paying state workers in hard currency as of the end of February. It soon emerged that Mr. Tsvangirai had not lined up the estimated US$40 million to US$50 million needed to fully dollarize state wages.
Biti is secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change formation headed by Mr. Tsvangirai, who founded the former opposition party in 1999 and after years under heavy pressure from the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe led the combined MDC to victory in the March 2008 general elections, garnering a parliamentary majority.
Organized labor was not impressed with the US$100 stipend. General Secretary Raymond Majongwe of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe denounced the "allowance" as an insignificant sum compared with the US$2,200 monthly minimum his striking members are demanding as a condition to returning to public classrooms shuttered for months.
Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare on the finance minister's news conference and the displeased response by teachers.
Expanding on his monetary approach, Biti in an exclusive interview with Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu said he'll maintain the present multi-currency monetary regimen rather than adopting the South African rand as the official currency, as some have proposed, and described the US$100 payments as a stimulus to boost consumption and output.