Even before the echo of the voice of Zambia's Minister of Finance, Alexander Chikwanda, died down from his budget presentation in parliament in which he announced the freezing of civil service wages for two years, citizen media website Zambian Watchdog unearthed a Statutory Instrument dated 8 October 2013 that increased President Michael Sata's salary along with other constitution office holders.
This is one Statutory Instrument government would have wished was buried among the documents citizens don’t get to know about for the furore it has caused has led to President Sata to offer to forego the 10 per cent increment on condition that opposition members of parliament also give up their share.
Three days after increasing the salary for Sata and his ministers, Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda told parliament when he presented the 2014 budget that there will be a wage freeze for civil servants for the next two years and that there would be no recruitment for public workers […] Sata’s latest increment of his salary was done right in the middle of nurses and midwives’ strikes to ask for better pay.
President Sata’s latest salary rise marked the third time his earnings have gone up since he assumed office in September 2011.
Labour Minister, Fackson Shamenda, a former head of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, justified the presidential salary increment by saying President Sata was the least paid head of state in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, saying:
People should be happy when we improve the living standards of others. Surely, in the world world today should we be proud that our president is the lowest paid in the region.
President Sata’s press aide George Chellah issued a statement, coinciding with Shamenda’s, in which he explained the procedure:
The procedure is once the Standing Orders Committee has determined what increment to award, the Minister of Finance issues a Statutory Instrument […] In fact, this year, the Committee, which includes opposition Members of Parliament met and came up with an increment of 10 per cent taking into account the national resource and notwithstanding the fact that the civil service was awarded increments ranging from 0 per cent to more than 150 per cent.
Another minister, Edgar Lungu, in charge of internal affairs, communicated the president’s willingness to forego the increment:
The President is saying that’s fine, but we have talked to the opposition UPND and MMD and they are saying we are with you and are actually saying it’s not enough, So you go and ask your opposition members of parliament why they are condemning the increment when they gave him that money through the standing orders committee.
According to a compilation by ‘My Wages’, Sata was until last week [before his salary increment] getting an equivalent of 845.436,00 South African Rands annually or 3.382,00 South African Rands daily.
Writing on the Zambian Watchdog website, Michelo Hansungule, a Zambian law professor resident in South Africa, called on President Sata to cancel the salary rise:
The president must denounce and cancel the increase and take responsibility as a leader should instead of childishly throwing the ball to a committee of Parliament. This should be easy for him to do given that he has exonerated himself and his executive preferring to blame a committee of Parliament and particularly opposition members of Parliament in the committee which means if he is to be believed the decision is not his and someone is putting tax payers money on his account without his consent.
There is a general impression that for the man who spent 10 years in opposition and probably spent a fortune organising the Patriotic Front (PF), a party he single-handedly formed and runs as a personal fiefdom, he will spend his time in office recouping what he spent all those years running its affairs.