President Edgar Lungu has announced the reduction of his salary and that of his Cabinet between a range of 15 and 20 per cent, with savings realized due to be allocated towards cushioning the vulnerable, amidst the high cost of living.

But the status of the former Cabinet Ministers, who illegally stayed in office following the Constitutional Court ruling compelling them to repay monies illegally accrued in 2016, remains unknown.

Speaking during a press briefing at State House in Lusaka, Friday afternoon, President Lungu’s Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations Isaac Chipampe announced that the Head of State had ordered a marginal reduction in his and all other Cabinet members’ salaries, including the Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr Simon Miti, of an average 15 per cent, effective Wednesday, January 1, 2020.

According to Chipampe, the gesture was necessitated by the Head of State’s desire to help generate savings to help cushion the impact of the high cost of living, which had been exacerbated by the Energy Regulation Board’s (ERB) fuel price hikes and electricity tariffs effected, Thursday evening.

The ERB hiked electricity tariffs by 200 per cent and increased fuel pump prices to K17.62 per litre of petrol in a secretive and unprecedented move, which caught all market players off-guard.

“His Excellency Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu has announced the reduction of his salary and that of his Cabinet between a range of 15 and 20 per cent. The President has also directed the Secretary to the Cabinet to cascade the directive to all non-unionized public officers, including parastatal executives. The slashing of salaries of highly paid public officers in both government and the parastatal sector is aimed at cushioning the impact on citizens arising from the increase on fuel prices and electricity tariffs announced by the ERB yesterday (Thursday),” Chipampe told journalists.

“The President said: ‘the money realized will go into cushioning the impact on the vulnerable in society.’ The President says he fully understood the challenges that the people of Zambia are going through, but is optimistic that the economy will rebound in 2020 due to the measures that government is putting in place, including the implementation of cost-cutting measures relating to travel of senior officials and protecting the vulnerable through ring-fencing the resources to social sectors.”

He explained that public officers in the highest income brackets would have their salaries slashed by 20 per cent, while lower ranked officials would fall under the 15 and 10 per cent pay cuts, respectively.

“On today’s (Friday) directive, the President says public officers in the highest salary brackets will have their salaries cut by 20 per cent whereas those in the middle will have theirs reduced by 15 per cent, and those in the lower rank will be down by 10 per cent. The President added, ‘I have shown the way and those willing to work with me should be ready to sacrifice’,” Chipampe said.

Asked whether State House had undertaken a projected forecast of how much funds would be realized from the initiative, Chipampe said the necessary modalities would be done to finally arrive at an estimated figure.

“Yes, that’s the obvious question that came up when the President made this announcement, and immediately, the Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr Simon Miti, had to request the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance to come up with the exact figures that will be saved from this decision, which will be announced to the public soon,” he replied.

And when asked whether it would have made a meaningful impact for civil servants to have had a significant salary increment rather than a reduction that may not trickle-down to lower ranked officers, Chipampe stressed that President Lungu was concerned about the vulnerable in society.

“When you weigh the two – the people in formal employment and the people who are not in employment, especially the vulnerable people, you find that they could be more than the people in the civil service. So, the President is more worried about the people who, really, don’t have income to talk about; those are the people he’s targeting, like the people who are covered in the Social Cash Transfer (SCT),” he replied.

But when queried for an update on progress of the illegal salaries former Cabinet Ministers earned following the ConCourt ruling, Chipampe said he had no updated position on this matter, but some figures were being discussed.

Last month, President Lungu told journalists at State House that the ConCourt ruling ordering the former ministers to repay public funds was questionable.

“I wish I had an answer to that, but if you get to the Chief Government Spokesperson (Dora Siliya) or, indeed, the Office of the Secretary to the Cabinet, he should be able to feed you with that information. The last time I heard that, there were some figures that were being discussed in the Ministry of Finance and Cabinet. But I don’t have the latest on this issue,” replied Chipampe.

President Lungu’s salary cut comes around 14 months after the Head of State was awarded a salary increment and allowances for himself and senior government officials on the back of austerity measures that were backdated and made effective January, 2018.

But the latest development follows government’s debt default with the African Development Bank (AfDB) of US $1.4 million.

The Head of State earns an annual estimated salary of K487,839.00, plus a special annual allowance of K129,413.00, or a monthly pay of K40,653.25, plus an allowance of K10,784.41, according to a Statutory Instrument signed by former Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe.