Former Secretary to Cabinet Dr Sketchley Sacika says President Edgar Lungu’s directive to slash his salary and that of Cabinet Ministers and top civil servants is cosmetic and inconsequential as a cost-saving measure.

But Sacika says that there is nothing wrong about President Lungu’s plan to reduce the government’s wage bill as a cost-saving measure and those who are affected and not in support are free to resign.

Last Friday, President Lungu announced a reduction of his salary and that of his Cabinet ministers by between 15 and 20 per cent, with savings realised due to be allocated towards the vulnerable amidst the high cost of living.

Commenting on the development, Dr Sacika said President Lungu must, however, ensure prudence in government and reduce his Cabinet by one-third if he was serious about fixing the country’s economy.

“Zambians must be clear about what they want, what is our priority? Our priority is to fix the economy, to make the economy work for all of us; you and me, the people in the villages, that is our priority and this requires that our government manages our public finances prudently by significantly reducing or cutting expenditure on non-productive activities. President Lungu’s move on salaries is, in my view, cosmetic and inconsequential as a cost-saving measure. If the President is serious, he must go further by reducing the size of his Cabinet by a third, he does not need so many Ministers to run the affairs of this country. He must go further by reducing the bloated super-structure of the government. We have too many Permanent Secretaries, too many deputy permanent secretaries, too many of these government officials, who are doing absolutely nothing! He should also go further by reducing the size of our foreign service,” he said.

“So, in other words, President Lungu should look into how to prudently manage the resources of the government. Zambia is not a rich country, you know that, we are very, very poor. Now, poor people don’t drink champagne, do they? What do they drink, they drink Mosi or Chibuku. We are a poor country so our government should not live beyond its means. Look at the government vehicles that our government officials drive; our Ministers, our Permanent Secretaries, they drive the top-of-the-range vehicles, very costly! I mean, how can a Minister and Permanent Secretary of a poor country live like Ministers and Permanent Secretaries in Britain and the United States? These are the basic issues.”

Dr Sacika further wondered whether Ministers would resign if they were unhappy with the President’s directive to reduce salaries.

“It is only in the case where wages are determined by statutory law that they cannot be reduced below the statutory threshold. In this case, if an employer is unable to pay the prescribed wages or salary, he must discharge the worker because it will be unlawful for him to reduce that salary and the worker cannot accept a reduced salary or wage because that would be illegal. Now, such circumstances only apply to workers who are covered by the minimum wages and Conditions of Employment Act. In my view, there is nothing wrong about President Lungu’s plan to reduce the government’s wage bill as a cost-saving measure. Governments do this always in order to serve the interests of the commoner. If the Ministers and others affected by the President’s move are not happy, they can resign (laughs), or they can say to the boss, ‘look sir, I can’t accept a 20 per cent or 15 per cent reduction’ because they are free agents, there is no forced labour. They are offering their labour as Ministers freely so if they are not happy with the move taken by the President, they can resign, but will they?” wondered Dr Sacika.

“First of all, a salary is a contractual obligation, but contractual obligations can be altered. If an employer cannot pay the agreed contractual salary due to economic circumstances or difficulties, he can reduce the worker’s salary and it is up the worker to accept or reject the reduction. If a worker rejects the reduction, or doesn’t like the idea of his or her salary being reduced, he/she can either leave employment on his/her own, there is no forced labour in Zambia. If your employer says, ‘look, I cannot continue to pay you what we agreed,’ you have the right to leave employment, or on the other hand, if the worker says, ‘look I don’t accept this reduction,’ the employer can fire him!”