August 23, 2007

Opposition ends boycott of budget debate / Parliament adopts pension motion

Malawi's opposition has started debating the national annual budget in parliament again by ending a boycott that had threatened to cut essential services. The opposition said it agreed to take part after receiving government assurances that a court case on alleged poaching of its members by the ruling party would be accelerated. The debate should have been completed by June 30 but was suspended last month when the opposition refused to discuss it before the poaching issue was resolved. "We have been intimidated and harassed in the last few months, and our decision today should not be taken as a sign of weakness on our part," said George Ntafu, deputy leader of the opposition United Democratic Front. Earlier on, ruling party deputies had started debating the budget without the opposition deputies, who hold the majority in parliament. Before, President Bingu wa Mutharika had threatened to close parliament if deputies did not start debating the budget within two days. And Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe had warned that the country of 12 million risked losing crucial donor budget aid if the standoff went on. The draft budget allocates more resources to poor rural areas, proposes salary increases for civil servants and higher spending on health care and food production.
In the meantime, Parliament has also resolved that government should revert to the old system of calculating Pension and Gratuity of civil servants as was during the past administrations of Kamuzu Banda and Bakili Muluzi. President Bingu wa Mutharika government changed the calculations of pension for Civil Servants based on the last Five Years of an employee service; which has seen the government paying out K3 billion in pension and gratuity as opposed to K8 billion if the payments were to be based on the old calculations as was during the Muluzi administration.
Parliament resolved after a private member motion which was moved by Clement Stambuli, United Democratic Front (UDF) Member of Parliament for Nkhotakota Central who urged the august House to support the motion: “in order to put a stop at the oppressive practice which is being implemented by the government as it exploits the retiring civil servants.” “Some of our pensioners are unable to pay school fees for their children, some are unable to finish their houses while of others are reduced to beggars,” the UDF lawmaker added. Stambuli, who served as cabinet minister in the Muluzi government appealed to the legislature to resolve that civil servants’ gratuity and pension should be calculated based on years served and not restricted to the last five years that the employee has served the government as is the case currently. (Rts / The Nation, Lilongwe)


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