‘Zany’ Guvamatanga roasted over claim of exchange rate during GNU

HARARE – Finance ministry secretary George Guvamatanga was on Monday accused of issuing a false statement after he claimed that current salaries of civil servants were comparable to the dollarisation era when the lowest-paid public sector worker earned US$540.

Guvamatanga told a news conference in Harare that current salary levels in the civil service were comparable to those paid “during the GNU (government of national unity)” which was formed in 2009 and dissolved in 2013.

Fact checkers immediately flagged Guvamatanga’s comments, noting that during the said period the country was exclusively using the United States dollar. It was not until 2016 that the central bank introduced the bond notes and coins at a rate of 1 : 1 to the United States dollar. In 2018, the central bank lifted the 1 : 1 pegging before re-introducing the Zimbabwe dollar the following year, while at the same time ending dollarisation.

Guvamatanga was speaking during a news conference which President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week said would unveil “concrete measures to tame inflation and unwarranted increases in prices” as well as “secure incomes and savings of our people.” Critics said there was nothing by way of those measures during the hour-long press briefing.

“I want to dispel another notion that has always been shared very widely, to say that previously during the GNU the salary was US$540. That’s not correct because we know that at that particular moment in time the exchange rate in the market was 1 : 2.5, so if you want to work out the correct you have to take that US$540 and divide by 2.5 to get what was the real salary in US dollars,” Guvamatanga told reporters.

“If you take the US$175 we are currently paying civil servants plus the Z$60,000 or so as the minimum salary, we’re not far off from what civil servants were being paid at that particular date, but we have conveniently converted that to 1:1 when we know that there was an applicable exchange rate in the market and the real value of those salaries was around US$250.”

Guvamatanga was justifying the government’s refusal to pay civil servants in foreign currency. He told journalists that government revenues were 30 percent foreign currency and 70 percent local currency.

Citizens Coalition for Change vice president Tendai Biti, who was finance minister between 2009 and 2013, called Guvamatanga’s claims “zany”.

“The suggestion that there was an exchange rate in 2013 is so zany it can’t be made by a senior civil servant,” Biti said. “A parallel exchange rate only emerges fully in 2019 after the introduction of the RTGS$ and bond notes.”

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