Friday, August 08, 2008

Cabinet pay rise a good test case for Zambians - Bishop Lungu

Cabinet pay rise a good test case for Zambians - Bishop Lungu
By Christopher Miti and Patson Chilemba
Friday August 08, 2008 [04:00]

ZAMBIA Episcopal Conference (ZEC) president Bishop George Lungu has said the approval of Cabinet's salary and allowance increments for constitutional office holders is a good test case for Zambians. And opposition UPND president Hakainde Hichilema yesterday dispelled claims by the government that the proposed salary and allowance increments will be debated and determined by Parliament. Bishop Lungu, in an interview, said it was the responsibility of the electorate to do something over what their representatives were doing.

"It is time that our people have to deal with these issues themselves. This is a good test case to see how it will be handled by Zambians if the electorate feel that they have been let down. Let us see what will be a way forward. The representatives were chosen for the purpose and that is to serve the welfare of the people.

If the people come to realise that this is what their leaders, those that were elected by the people, are doing and come to awareness that they are not representing them, then it's their responsibility to do something about it. And this does not just mean that the Bishop is the one who is supposed to say this or that, or figures who are prominent in the political or religious field are the ones to do it. No, they can assist but the main responsibility is in the hands of the electorate," Bishop Lungu said.

He said it was entirely up to Zambians to chat the way forward if they were not satisfied with what their representatives were doing. Bishop Lungu said there should be a way of engaging the people that were elected into office.

"In the Catholic Church we have a social arm, justice and peace, that is supposed to help us engage the politicians. We need to come to an understanding of what is happening there. So it is indeed the electorate that are supposed to act and they are people who are better placed to help organise so that there can be a voice that can be heard," he said.

Bishop Lungu said the people that were elected into power needed to listen to the voices of the electorate.

"If the elected ignore what people are saying the electorate have power to remove them from office because they are not representing their concerns. It is helpful for people to comment on the issue but it's not an organised voice where people are going to express what they feel as an electorate.

So I do hope that for us as the Catholic Church, there are people concerned about development issues and they will really go to the nitty gritty of what it is all about and come up with a way forward. If it means that we have to know what these increments are all about, then let us know," he said.

Bishop Lungu reminded the elected that the electorate were their employers who had a right to determine their dues.
And addressing the press at the UPND secretariat, Hichilema said Cabinet would be deceiving the people by defying the rules of logic and proceeding with impunity to take the salary proposals to Parliament for ratification. He said the bill on the proposed salary increments would pass without debate.

"We are aware that many benefits the ministers get are never taken to Parliament or made public. These include allowances for telephone, electricity, water and fuel. In 2006, the ministers sold themselves their personal-to-holder vehicles at book value without taking the matter to Parliament," Hichilema said. "Government's announcement that new salaries and conditions of service will be debated and determined by Parliament is not true. Under the current parliamentary procedure, MPs are not allowed to debate on matters affecting them or their conditions of service."

Hichilema said Cabinet was on a mission to try and show that the hefty allowances had been ratified by Parliament.
"UPND MPs have no opportunity to debate because that will be against parliamentary procedure," he said.

Hichilema said UPND had received the proposed allowance increments with a deep sense of shock and dismay.

"In our view, increasing the salary of a lowly-paid teacher or nurse by 15 per cent does not justify increasing a salary of an already better paid minister by the same 15 per cent let alone introducing the frivolous responsibility allowance," Hichilema said. "This is a clear failure to understand the principle of fairness and equity and how a country should redistribute income among its citizens."

Hichilema said it was saddening that while Cabinet continued to drag its feet on many important issues under the pretext that there was no money, they had found it convenient to approve hefty allowances.

"The cost of fertiliser now stands at between K210,000 and K230,000 per 50 kilogramme bag yet this government in its own wisdom has decided to reduce the funding and number of beneficiaries under the Fertiliser Support Programme in order to make savings directed at their own pockets and stomachs. What level of political deception and personal aggrandisement is this," he asked.

Hichilema explained that the current fuel allowance for for ministers' personal-to-holder vehicles is pegged at 600 litres per month.
"At the current ruling pump price this translates to K4,800,000. This is given as cash and the allowance is proposed to go up.

In addition, every minister has a utility vehicle with fuel, driver and other maintenance costs borne by the government/taxpayers," he said.
Hichilema said the gratuity payable to ministers and others eligible currently stood at K600 million per person and that the figure was expected to increase to K2 billion in view of the proposed increments.
On the proposed responsibility allowance, Hichilema said people should not be paid responsibility allowance for performing their normal duties.

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