Taxpayers will spend over K100 million annually on salaries and benefits of three Ministry of Agriculture principal secretaries (PSs) after President Lazarus Chakwera appointed two more on Friday.
The move, which is a spat on the spirit of reforms and austerity measures, has attracted criticism from an economist who argues that the ministry could easily do with one PS, supported by directors.
But government has defended the appointments, saying there are several planned engagements that require their positions.
According to our findings, the PSs are also allocated a Toyota Prado TX each which is likely to cost taxpayers over K70 million.
The new PSs are Godfrey Mamba responsible for irrigation and Medrina Mloza-Banda for technical services. They were appointed alongside Alfred Mwenifumbo who is controller of agricultural extension and technical services.
The new appointees join Sandram Maweru who was appointed in 2020 when he had already retired from the public service.
In the press release signed by the Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Colleen Zamba, the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) also announced Alfonso Chikuni as new PS for Energy, Ireen Mayeso Chikapa as secretary for Civil Service Commission, Gideon Kaonongera as PS (Finance) in the OPC and retired Brigadier General Charles Kalumo as director general of Immigration and Citizenship Services.
PSs fall under grade C in the civil service with a monthly salary of around K1.8 million. This means the three will on a monthly basis rake in K5.4 million and around K65 million annually.
The calculations are based on the revision of salaries memo which the Department of Human Resource Management and Development issued in late 2019.
Additionally, each PS is entitled to 500 litres of fuel monthly for local running which, at current pump price, is around K1 million a month and about K40 million yearly
for the combined three new PSs.
In an interview, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources lecturer Henry Kamkwamba said the appointments were unnecessary public expenditure.
He said: “The system in the Ministry of Agriculture already has a hierarchy. From the past it used to have one PS and a couple of senior technical personnel such as directors. To have multiple PSs is just an unnecessary expenditure on part of government.
“I doubt very much if it is going to increase efficiency. What we need now is a lean government to spend less. If you see the largest proportion of government expenditure is these emoluments.
“If you increase the number of people that are just duplicating it is going to be a problem. My take is that let’s stick to the old structure with fewer but effective personnel.”
The agriculture development economist said adding the PSs defeats the recently announced austerity measures and Public Sector Reforms which have been pushing for a reduction in the number of PSs.
“You don’t reform by increasing personnel. You reform by increasing the efficiency over what different sectors are required to do. Though the appointments might not put a huge dent in as far as the grand picture of expenditure is concerned, still it is an expensive expenditure,” he said.
However, in a written response yesterday, SPC Zamba backed the appointments, arguing the country is implementing a lot of programmes.
She said: “There is need to strengthen the ministry as you may be aware it is the core driver of the agenda. Several programmes are taking place DG [development and growth], mega farms etc. which need direction by the ministry. There is need to have a balance so that productivity is not compromised.
“Mamba is already there, he has just been promoted. He was director for irrigation. This is also specific irrigation. While in the ministry proper it’s two PSs so they can support each other. Wina akakhala busy ndi AIP wina azionanso zina kuti zisaime
[when one is engaged with Affordable Inputs Programme, the other will be attending to other areas to avoid stagnation].
“There are ADDs [Agriculture Development Divisions], issues of food systems which have taken centre stage at global level. Malawi has some roles to play so we need to position ourselves strategically.”
Chakwera on May 31 unveiled austerity measures to stabilise the shaky economy that forced the government to devalue the kwacha by 25 percent.
The President said the austerity measures include cutting by 20 percent fuel allowances for his Cabinet, restrictions on foreign travel and no movement of government vehicles after 6pm.
He also constrained renewal of employment contracts in government parastatals.
The President said: “The renewal or signing of new employment contracts in all State-owned enterprises is forbidden forthwith, except for special circumstances that must be approved by the President’s office,
“…and this restriction will not be lifted until the Office of the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations is done reviewing the remuneration in this sector to ensure that it reflects the state of the economy and the performance of the institution.”
As part of reforms in the civil service, government proposed reduction of principal secretaries but recent development means it has gone back on its promise