A new salary structure at Legal Aid Bureau will see lawyers’ monthly income dwindling by over K20 000 despite an already outstanding concern of low pay, making them the lowest paid in government.
This follows government’s insistence that the new salary structure should not include an additional allowance aimed at cushioning the advocates from low pay in the justice sector.
The Malawi Law Society has since called on government to seriously review the matter as retention of lawyers in the public sector is a longstanding concern.
According to correspondence Nation on Sunday has seen between the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD) and Treasury, the DHRMD insists that the new salary structure for the bureau should be implemented without the non practising
allowance—an allowance introduced to attract and retain lawyers in government—which the bureau decided to be part and parcel of the remunerative package for the lawyers.
Without the NPA, the lawyers currently with the bureau will be paid less than what they are getting now and Nation on Sunday understands that the bureau will not be in a position to recruit new lawyers if an exodus takes place.
The salary structure changes were necessitated by the changes in the bureau’s mandate after it changed from its previous portfolio as a department under the Ministry of Justice and constitutional Affairs (MoJ) to its current status as an independent constitutional body.
In a letter dated July 1 2016, titled Non-Practising Allowance, addressed to the Secretary for Treasury Ronald Mangani, DHRMD says Legal Aid Bureau approached the department on the non-practising allowance which is applicable to Ministry of Justice to be applicable to their institution as well.
“This office advised them that this is only applicable to Ministry of Justice Lawyers and is funded by European Union under the Rule of Law Programme. It is a short term incentive in order to attract and retain Lawyers in the Ministry. This is not applicable to an oversight institution,” reads part of the letter.
According to an earlier letter from the Legal Aid Director Masauko Edwin Chamkakala addressed to Secretary for the Treasury and budget director Charles Simwaka, a new salary structure at the bureau will see lawyers taking salary cuts as big as by K25 000 and the bureau was hoping that the NPA could be used to cover for the cut.
“In the absence of the NPA, the total remuneration of lawyers will be reduced. For instance, a Senior Legal Advocate at Grade H is currently being paid a gross salary of K216 879.00 which translates to a net salary of K158 556 00 plus NPA. After Paye, the net is K158 556.00 (tax free) and the monthly package is K308 565.00. This should be compared to the new salary structure in which a Senior Legal Advocate at Grade H is getting a gross of K402 580. After deductions for Paye the monthly package is K288 566.00. This represents a reduction of K20 000 income,” reads part of the letter.
Chamkakala said in the event that Treasury takes the advice not to include the NPA, it will be difficult for the bureau, which already operates on a shoe-string budget, to retain and attract lawyers and perfom its legal mandate.
The Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu could not be reached yesterday for comment on the development.
But MLS honoary secretary Khumbo Soko yesterday called upon government to act on the matter.
“We hope that whatever structure government will come up with, the issue of conditions of services for lawyers will be treated with utmost seriousness because, not just at Legal Aid Bureau, it has proven difficult to retain lawyers at other justice sectors agencies such as Ministry of Justice, Directorate of Public Prosecutions or ACB,” added Soko.
At the moment, the bureau has nine lawyers. Additionally, five lawyers who were on internship and were hoping to be employed had their hopes dashed when the bureau’s budget was slashed down.