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From treasury czar to policing social media

Chinamasa was practical, and doggedly pursued re-engagement with the western funders but was hemmed in at every turn by Mugabe.

He watched as the government ran a cumulative budget deficit of more than $3 billion since 2014, funded through local borrowings, which have compounded a foreign currency crisis and fuelled inflation.

In 2015, he announced a ‘Cabinet decision’ to freeze bonus payments, which would have taken some $200 million off its huge wage bill over three years.

Mugabe, who was away at the time, called the decision ‘diabolical and disgusting’ even as Chinamasa was at the time, in New York for a round of meetings with multilateral finance institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Chinamasa apologised for his ‘mistake’ despite the fact that Cabinet had in fact discussed and approved the measures.

Still, he persisted.

For the 2016 budget, he proposed more austerity measures to shave off $170 million off the annual government wage bill through the reduction of ward staffing levels for the youth and women’s ministries as well as agricultural extension workers.

He also proposed to stop paying salaries for teachers employed by private schools, cancel allowances for student teachers and review the vacation leave policy for the education sector.

In September last year, Chinamasa — who insisted that Zimbabwe was ready to take the pain of the reforms — announced austerity measures which included job cuts, suspension of civil servant bonuses (again), wage cuts among others.

Four days later, Chris Mushowe, then information minister, released a statement saying Cabinet had never approved Chinamasa’s proposals.

He got the message: there was no room for ‘bookish economics’ in Mugabe’s government.

After the latest spate of price increases, panic buying and the threat of shortages, a rattled Mugabe promised tough action.

At a Cabinet meeting on September 27, Chinamasa clearly did not play ball, saying in Parliament last week: “I told Cabinet that I am opposed to the reintroduction of price controls; they will worsen and exacerbate the situation. We must handle it in a market-friendly way and I think it can be done.”

It’s worth noting though, that the government has a love-hate relationship with social media after movements such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka used social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to organise the biggest anti-government protest in a decade last year.

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