Judges disregarding law on contributing to pension schemes

Yesterday, we disagreed with Pastor Nevers Mumba’s argument that former vice-presidents deserve retirement benefits that should sustain their lives until they die. He made a comparison, saying “former Presidents, Chief Justices, Speaker of the National Assembly, Service Chiefs and several other government officials get sustainable packages once they retire but a former vice-president has none.

In our argument, we tried to illustrate that, with the kind of privileges and benefits that a sitting vice-president gets, there is no need for anyone to steal in order to live comfortable for the rest of your life. But we want to thank Pastor Mumba once again for raising this issue because his personal problem is just a pointer to the real scandal. Today, we would like to talk about people who get retirement packages without contributing anything to the pension scheme. Who pays for those packages? We need to find out. But first, let’s talk about those who get retirement benefits outside the law.

In Zambia, we have a situation where some government office bearers take home sustenance retirement packages, without any law backing such benefits. All it takes is the President writing a letter and adding those entitlements to the contract of a person holding a particular office of interest. In other words, a head of a government institution who has a strong connection with the Head of State can negotiate with the President to give him or her such retirement benefits where they get a percentage of the incumbents salary, for life.

This has been happening, but no one is talking about it. For example, of the three substantive Auditor Generals that have served Zambia in the past, only one was privileged enough to get such an offer from the President, to retire with a percentage of the incumbent’s salary until they die. The other two did not retire with such conditions because the entitlement is not provided for in the law. Is that normal for a country like Zambia which is surviving on loans?
We can understand the need for service chiefs, top intelligence officers and other senior security personnel of government, to retire with such benefits because of the sensitive nature of their jobs. It can be justified why government would want to specifically ensure that these individuals don’t become destitute retirees. But for these other office holders, the only justification is that they make a lot of enemies in their line of duty. The whole logic doesn’t just make sense.

But our point is that a President cannot just decide to give someone a pension without a pension scheme attached to it. That is illegal and unfair. If people are being given pensions without a pension scheme, then who is paying for those packages? A worker is supposed to make contributions to a pension scheme during the time of their employment before they can go and claim those benefits from the Pensions Fund; simple and straight forward.

But there is an even bigger scandal. We don’t know how many Zambians are aware that today, when eligible judges retire, they continue to get 80 per cent of the salary of the incumbent judge until death. And that is not all; when that particular judge dies, the widow, or spouse continues to get 50 per cent of the incumbent judge’s salary until she also dies.

That is the kind of money that Zambians pay to the households of judges. Now, we don’t have the statistics of how many judges have retired in Zambia and are still living with their spouses; we will leave that to the imagination of you, our readers. And while we are at it, our readers may also want to imagine the kind of money those retired judges get when they are reappointed to head institutions such as the Electoral Commission of Zambia.

Ridiculous as that retirement package may sound for a country like Zambia, where more than half the population is in abject poverty, it is not illegal. Since these people already get huge salaries per month, and considering that they are constitutional office holders who cannot be fired unless they do wrong, one would expect that they don’t need such staggering retirement benefits, but the laws of Zambia say they are entitled.

But the scandal gets worse. The same law that allows them to get that kind of money also says they should contribute to a pension scheme, but they have never contributed. Why are the judges breaching the law with impunity?

Chapter 277 of the laws of Zambia under the Judges Conditions of Service Act, section (10) states: “A Judge shall contribute towards the cost of the pension scheme described in this Act at the rate of seven and one quarter per centum of his pensionable emoluments or at such other rate as the Minister may fix by statutory order in consultation with the institution designated by section nine.”

Our judges who are eligible to that retirement package cannot claim that there is a deduction from their salaries, which goes to a pension scheme. So, they get that money from the Treasury, paid by other taxpayers, to live on for life after they retire. How fair is that?

The judges’ conditions of service Act is being disregarded by the very learned judges who must be upholding the Republican Constitution. This is the much bigger problem that Pastor Nevers Mumba has pointed us to, which Zambians should take interest in. We would like to hear what governance stakeholders, the Law Association of Zambia and academicians have to say about this. In our view, Zambians are being robbed by those who must be jailing robbers.

         

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