Some Malawi Defence Force (MDF) retired soldiers are set to hold a vigil at Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) in Lilongwe next week to press on government to address the challenges affecting their daily welfare.
The indefinite vigil is set for week beginning July 1 2022 and will involve non-commissioned retired officers, who are from the rank of Private to Warrant Officer Class One.
One of the protest’s organisers Victor Lipenga, a retired staff sergeant, told Weekend Nation in an interview, that they have come up with the “insensitive resolution” after all their efforts to be assisted have proved futile.
Lipenga confirmed that the ex-soldiers are organising the vigil through a grouping called Tiyende Limodzi.
He said they have taken their concerns to different government offices, including the courts, to be assisted but to no avail.
“As retired soldiers, we are disciplined people and we have just demonstrated that by taking our concerns to almost all the relevant offices with no help.
“We believe our concerns are not reaching the Commander-in-Chief [President Lazarus Chakwera] so perhaps he will be made aware through our Capital Hill vigil because we are really suffering. It would appear all the services,” bemoaned Lipenga.
Among others, the ex-service men and women want government to consider revising their pension, access to free medical services as stipulated by section 82 (2) of the Defence Act (Benefits on Retirement), the Accountant General to recalculate and pay arrears for the pension and gratuity to all retired soldiers who retired between 2004 and 2009 and funeral benefits to cover all retired soldiers (provision of full military honours during burial of ex-soldiers).
Currently, according to Lipenga, pension for retired private soldier is around K13 000 monthly while warrant officer class one gets around K80 000 a month.
He said authorities and Malawians at large should treat their decision like that of any citizen and “should avoid interpreting it wrongly”.
“There is nothing political. We are only expressing our concerns to the Commander-In-Chief to help us.”
In August 2020, the ex-soldiers petitioned National Assembly through Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security, requesting it to, among other things, order MDF to abide by and respect the High Court ruling issued in 2013 directing government to revise retired soldiers pension, and harmonise pension benefits across ranks so that all those who retired holding the same rank in the same year should receive equal monthly benefits.
In the petition, the retired soldiers also asked the committee to direct MDF to comply and implement Section 82 (2) of Defence Act (Benefits on retirement), which states that an officer who is in receipt of military pension shall be entitled to free medical attention.
The petition was addressed to the chairperson of the committee (then Jappie Mhango) and copied to the Ministry of Defence, MDF Commander, Malawi Human Rights Commission, Anti-Corruption Bureau, Judiciary and the Attorney General.
But in an interview current chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security Ralph Jooma said he was not aware of any petition to the committee.
He said: “I never received this issue during handover. Probably my predecessor may have knowledge; otherwise, I have not seen anything from ex-soldiers. But I will still just check with my clerk to find out if there is anything on that issue probably it may have been forgotten.”
The committee’s former chairperson [Mhango] was not available when contacted.
MDF spokesperson Major Emmanuel Mlelemba said in an interview yesterday that they were aware of the impending vigil, but said the ex-soldiers’ concerns were beyond MDF alone as institution.
He said: ““What the MDF did was just to process the relevant documents and forward them for further processing by different stakeholders that are involved in the processing of pensions as well as gratuities.”
But security analyst Alex Chisiano said for the ex-soldiers to resolve to hold a vigil meant their concerns were not being heard by the relevant authorities.
“In terms of discipline in the armed forces we believe in hierarchical reporting. So what is the MDF commander doing about the issue? Has he been appraised about this problem? How about the parent ministry? What is it doing about it?” queried Chisiano.
He said the impression being created was that someone was blocking the reporting hierarchy. “If these people wanted to meet the Commander-In-Chief or the MDF commander but now plan to hold a vigil it means something is wrong and that is a recipe for security breakdown if not properly handled. Other people would want to take advantage of the situation so they better quickly resolve the matter,” he said.