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Outrage in councils over salary arrears

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By Mandy Pondani:

Tension and animosity is building up among members of staff in some local district councils in the country, following the councils’ delay in settling salary arrears for some members of staff.

Most of the affected are teachers and health workers and agriculture officers, with some being owed arrears dating back to as far as five years ago.

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Some of the affected members of staff from various councils have accused government of rushing the decentralisation process which they say has led to a number of operational challenges in councils.

“Most of the councils were not ready, there are issues of capacity and resources. So, it’s like putting on them an extra burden which is proving difficult to get rid of,” said Tayani Maliwasa of Chikwawa in a telephone interview Wednesday.

For instance, at Nkhata Bay District Health Office (DHO), over 40 workers have been pushing for their money which has accumulated to over K50 million, according to our sources, but all to no avail.

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Some of the people we have talked to claim were promoted to higher working grades some years ago but government, through the district council, is yet to effect the new salary scales on them.

“I was promoted in 2014 from PO grade to P8, from that year to 2016, I was still receiving salary for the PO grade. Surprisingly, to date, I have not yet been paid the difference and its cause for worry, I am owed about K1.2 million,” said one environmental health officer, who opted for anonymity, at Nkhata Bay DHO.

Lucky Kayira from Rumphi DHO corroborated the environmental officer’s sentiments saying since they started pushing for the payment, the council has been giving one excuse after the other such that they are now running out of patience.

He said, with the passage of time, the money is slowly losing value such that the beneficiaries might not be able to put it to meaningful usage once the payment is done.

“We are disgruntled really, we feel so victimised and mistreated. I wonder why it has in history been very difficult for the government of Malawi to pay people what is duly theirs, because, if we were promoted, it means authorities deemed it fit that our experience and knowledge deserve such appraisal,” Kayira said.

Another senior nursing officer at Nkhata Bay DHO observed that decentralisation was rushed against a background of resource-constrained councils.

“We are given petty excuses, such as lack of stationery and toner. Need I say that there seemingly is lack of capacity and commitment from the side of the Human Resource Department? I just think the responsible ministries would have taken care of outstanding issues such as these of salary arrears until councils put their houses in order,” Moyo explained.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the ministry cannot take over the matter of salary arrears saying that would be defeating the whole purpose of decentralisation, which is aimed at empowering local councils.

“If they are in the district, then the councils would assist in processing the arrears unless they are in central hospitals or headquarters. In fact, most of them already submitted to their respective councils,” Malango said.

But Human Resource Officer for Nkhata Bay Joseph Kayira, who is among the affected, admitted of the delay and said they are waiting for the office of the Auditor’s General in Lilongwe to approve the list of beneficiaries.

“It’s true that some have not been paid their salary arrears but the current procedure is that when you prepare salary arrears, they are supposed to be audited first by the Auditor General and, when they are satisfied with your preparations, one can be paid. As I am writing this now, arrears were prepared sometime but are still being audited by the Auditor General in Lilongwe. I am also not paid my arrears,” he said.

Rumphi DHO spokesperson Bwanalori Mwamlima also conceded of logistical challenges in settling the matter but said their office has made considerable progress with the last group being paid in November 2018.

Malawi News has established that over 50 officers from various departments have not received salary arrears at Rumphi District Council in the last four years.

“Currently, the Human Resources Department is in the process of compiling the remaining list of employees who have salary arrears. Once the list has been compiled and approved at district council level, then it shall be presented to the central level for further processing which culminates into payment to the respective employees,” Mwalima explained.

Government spokesperson Henry Mussa has said there has been improved quality of service delivery among councils since decentralisation.

“In Malawi, decentralisation could not come at a better time because it augurs well with the government’s commitment to meeting a number of Sustainable Development Goals. Wherever they are issues like salary arrears, the responsible councils with guidance from Ministry of local Government should be able to sort that out,” Mussa said.

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