The Office of the Ombudsman says its order to recalculate and process terminal benefits of some former Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers still stands until the Accountant General submits a report detailing otherwise.
Ombudsman Grace Malera said in an interview last week that in case Accountant General Jane Munyenyembe does not comply, her office will follow the law by invoking Section 124(d) of the Constitution which, among others, empowers her office to summon public officers or begin contempt proceedings.
“We can’t let people perpetuate the injustices occasioned to the ex-soldiers,” she said.
Malera was responding to our questionnaire after it transpired that the Accountant General did not communicate at the expiry of 21 days given for the recalculation of benefits of the soldiers who retired between 2004 and 2012.
In her letter dated June 21 2022, the Ombudsman gave the Accountant General up to July 7 2022 to furnish her office with the said report or face consequences.
But when contacted last week, Munyenyembe argued that the 21 days only elapsed on Friday as per the date of receipt of the resolution on a tripartite meeting held to look into the matter.
“There is much progress that has been made on the ground. The Ombudsman will be communicated accordingly next week,” she said.
Malera also confirmed that the Accountant General explained progress made on the matter, but said her instruction was to have the same put in writing.
The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the Accountant General to report on the scheme and tabulation of payments of the ex-soldiers’ benefits, including timelines of effecting payments following a series of meetings.
The Ombudsman had been investigating a complaint by ex-servicemen and women on delays in respect of recalculation of their pension and gratuity, which were miscalculated.
The ex-soldiers complained that they were underpaid their benefits following the 2004 restructuring of civil service salaries and grades that resulted in the exclusion of their marriage and ration allowances.
The disgruntled ex-soldiers took the matter to the Ombudsman after government failed to implement a 2013 High Court ruling that ordered recalculation of their benefits.
MDF wrote Munyenyembe in July 2021 requesting recalculation of their pensionable emoluments to include the allowances, which did not happen.
The soldiers were entitled to get the allowances as per the Defence Force Act and Regulations.
On November 10 2021, the Accountant General accepted liability to undertake the recomputation of the terminal benefits of all affected officers.
After a series of meetings involving the Ombudsman, the Accountant General and other relevant government agencies and the ex-soldiers to agree on the way forward, the parties agreed on 10 resolutions.
One of which, according to an Ombudsman’s communication dated June 6 2022, reads: “The Accountant General in liaison with the Secretary to the Treasury to report to the Ombudsman within 21 days of the meeting, on the scheme and tabulation of the payments, including specifying the timelines when effecting of the payments shall commence and be completed and the mode thereof.”
Government issued a circular on September 30 2004 abolishing all remunerative allowances paid through the payroll effective October 1 2004, which removed some allowances from MDF pensioners’ emoluments for those who retired between 2004 and 2012.
But in 2016, through his letter dated February 24 2016, former Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale directed that the circular did not amend the regulations issued under the Defence Act as the same was not laid before Parliament.