It was honourable that government directed that one of its fallen sons—Sam Mpasu—who passed on last week be accorded a State funeral. I reckon this was in recognition of his service to the nation.
Mpasu served as a diplomat, Member of Parliament (MP) for Ntcheu Central, Cabinet minister and Speaker of the National Assembly. He was also a fine writer. At the time of his death he was president of a political party. Above everything else, I would say, Mpasu was level-headed which many politicians are not. May his soul rest in peace.
But as he was being mourned and his remains interred at Khuzi Village in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kwataine in Ntcheu early this week, a few questions kept crossing my mind.
Was a State funeral all that he deserved? Did he have to be honoured only in death? Was he accorded a State funeral because he once served as an MP, Cabinet Minister, or Speaker? Or all of them combined? On reflection, I opined he was accorded a State funeral because he was an honourable person whose service and contribution to the country—in many ways—cannot be trivialised.
That he deserved a State funeral cannot be faulted as well. But like many people who are hailed when they die, would it not have been more honourable and better to recognise his service to the nation while he was alive?
It was while I was pondering on these questions that I remembered that one of the former speakers—Henry Chimunthu Banda—is on a life-long State pension paid by the taxpayer after he got his gratuity having served as a speaker. As a former Speaker, he gets half the salary and fuel allocation of the incumbent Speaker for the rest of his life as part of his retirement package.
According to the Malawi National Assembly Terms and Conditions of Service for the Speaker, which came into effect on November 13 2009, Chimunthu Banda also got a four-wheel drive motor vehicle as part of his retirement package.
Surprisingly, the conditions of service for the Speaker which are determined by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) and approved by the President did not extend to the other former Speakers.
At the time Chimunthu Banda started getting his current retirement benefits as a former speaker, Malawi had four other living former Speakers, namely, Nelson Khonje, Sam Mpasu, Louis Chimango and Davis Katsonga. They all received gratuity when they left office.
I have no grudge against my former classmate (Chimunthu Banda). He is an affable man who has served this country well. But the point I am making is that if there was fairness in determining benefits for Chimunthu Banda, they should also have extended to other former Speakers.
I guess, the reason government left out other former Speakers and deputy Speakers in the arrangement for retirement benefits one former Speaker is enjoying is because it is aware that they do not deserve such packages after they get their gratuities.
By putting on its payroll too many people government is saddling itself with many unnecessary obligations which it is unable to fulfill.
This is the reason it is failing to adequately stock public hospitals with medicines, employ nurses and new graduates in various sectors, buy learning and teaching materials in schools, to mention but a few.
It is also the reason government is resorting to taxing basic necessities such as tap water. Government has allowed some people who have worked for it for a short period of time to live lavish lifestyles on people’s taxes.
When people assume political offices, the idea should be to serve the government diligently and use those opportunities to be able to stand on their own once they leave those public offices.
I have no doubt in my mind, the current terms and conditions of service for the Speaker, which are determined by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC)—and which incidentally is chaired by Speaker—were coached for political expedience.
It would be nonsense for government to normalise mistakes it made on Chimunthu Banda, and start paying terminal benefits to people who have over 40 years to live after they have worked for it for five years.
While there is nothing wrong in honouring people who have provided a service to the nation with a State funeral and pension benefits, there ought to be a semblance of uniformity. Where use of public funds is involved like paying former speakers for the rest of their lives, my proposal is that the whole House should discuss it.