Malawi judges have drawn up a list of new demands, including entitlements to at least two vehicles, one of which should be a Mercedes Benz.
The judges also want their fuel perks hiked by an average of 120 percent, settlement allowance to increase by 1 500 percent and furniture allowances to swell by 60 percent.
The Judiciary also wants the Chief Justice to have a retirement package that is almost similar to that of State Vice-President, among other demands.
The latest demands—contained in the revised Conditions of Service for Judicial Officers that we have seen—comes at a time the National Budget is besieged by up to 61 percent pay hike for civil servants that will cost Malawi taxpayers an above budget K5.7 billion (about $15.8 million).
It also comes at the centre of a perks demand by another branch of government—Parliament—where legislators are pushing Capital Hill to implement fuel allowances of 500 litres a month each as agreed in 2008 and which they want paid in arrears dating back to 2009.
The backdated payment could see each parliamentarian carting home K10 million (about $27 777), a payout of about K4 billion (about $11.1 million).
All these demands are falling on an economy depressed by near negative growth rates, high interest rates, a volatile local currency, monthly fuel price increases, runaway inflation, a shrinking resource envelop and under-productivity that is also emanating from unreliable energy and water supply.
According to the revised Conditions of Service for Judicial Officers that we have seen and whose effective date would be July 2012, the Chief Justice shall be entitled to three vehicles for official and private use “provided that one of the three vehicles shall be a Mercedes Benz.”
For the Justices of Appeal, judges and the registrar, the proposal is that they be given two vehicles, one of which should be a Mercedes Benz.
At current market prices, Mercedes Benz costs between K30 million (about $83 333) and K45 million (about $125 000).
The judges also want government to give them free housing, which is a break from the consolidated wage policy or clean wage bill that government adopted for the public sector in 2005.
They also want their subsistence allowances increased from K8 000 (about $22) to K24 000 (about $66) where accommodation is provided for and from K12 000 (about $33) to K60 000 (about $167) where accommodation is not paid for.
Justices of Appeal want their fuel allowances to jump by 150 percent from 600 litres (K420 000 at present petrol prices) to 1 500 litres (K1 million) per month to subsidise their driving from their homes, which are within the cities they work in.
The document also proposes that fuel allowances for judges double from 500 litres (K350 000) a month to 1 000 litres (K700 000). Fuel allocation for the Chief Justice has not changed at 2 500 litres (K1.75 million).
The new conditions also propose that a spouse who accompanies a judicial officer shall be entitled to two-thirds of the officer’s subsistence allowance entitlement whereas a child would be entitled to a third.
They also propose changes to settlement allowance, which applies under three circumstances: first, when the officer is transferred to a new station; when the officer is required to move from one house to another in any one year (limited to twice a year) and third, each time the officer is required to temporarily vacate a house for a period exceeding one month while at the same work station.
Under these circumstances, judges’ settlement allowances are proposed to jump from K20 000 to K400 000; that of the registrar, chairperson, senior deputy registrar, deputy registrar, deputy chairperson and chief resident magistrate may move from K20 000 to K350 000 whereas assistant registrar’s could rise from K20 000 to K300 000.
Settlement allowances for principal resident magistrate and senior resident magistrate could jump from K15 000 to K200 000 whereas those of the first grade magistrate and second grade magistrate may move from K10 000 to K150 000 and those of third and fourth grade magistrates increases from K8 000 to K100 000.
The judges also want diplomatic passports for themselves and their spouses even in retirement.
They also demand a paid for paternity leave of up to 30 consecutive calendar days once every three years.
The Judiciary wants the Chief Justice to be provided with a retirement home, a motor vehicle to be maintained by government and to be replaced once every five years; monthly fuel allowance of 500 litres, super VIP medical cover, a driver, a gardener, a domestic servant, a cook and security detail.
“Provided that these additional benefits shall cease to accrue upon the retired chief justice engaging in active employment…”, reads the Conditions of Service.
This proposed retirement package competes with that of a Vice-President who also gets one motor vehicle, a government house, cook, chauffeur, gardener, free medical services and security detail, among other items.
Both Secretary to the Treasury Randson Mwadiwa and Attorney General Anthony Kamanga last week confirmed that the judges have put in a request as per the Constitution which states that Conditions of Service for Judicial Officers should be reviewed every three years. The last time the conditions were revised was in July 2009, which means that the new ones should have been in place in July 2012.
“We were asked for our view point and we gave it to the Office of the President and Cabinet,” Mwadiwa said when asked for details on the request from the Judiciary.
On his part, Kamanga said he only knew that Treasury and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament were still conferring.
PAC chairperson Henry Mussa confirmed on Tuesday that his committee was looking at the revised document. He could not, however, say how far the discussions have gone. PAC is mandated by the Constitution to approve salaries and perks for the Judiciary.
A senior Treasury official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the judges’ demands as outrageous.
“This is blackmail, daylight robbery because they know too well that this economy can’t afford such kind of luxury to a certain section of people when many can’t even afford to buy a loaf of bread,” he said.
Since last week, efforts to talk to High Court Registrar Mike Tembo to justify the proposed perks proved futile. He did not respond to an e-mailed questionnaire sent to him last week. Also, every time we called him to follow up on our questions, he said he was in a meeting.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national secretary Chris Chisoni described the judges’ demands as a sign of “greed” and said the Malawi economy cannot afford such “sinful benefits”.
“The problem is that these judges want to match their perks to those being received by some in the Executive branches. On the other hand, these judges have sensed a weakness in the country’s leadership and are exploiting it to their advantage, but to the country’s detriment,” said Chisoni.
Perks in the Judiciary have always been controversial. The revision of Conditions of Service for the Judiciary in 2009 also pitted this branch of government against the Executive, which for years pushed back against what they considered to be the judges’ excessive demands. Last year, a two-month strike by Judiciary support staff paralysed the country’s justice delivery system.
The junior staff wanted to press government to pay their arrears dating back to 2006 amounting to K1.2 billion, including those for senior staff. Judicial officers—judges, magistrates and other senior officers—later joined the strike, which forced government to compromise and reach a pay deal that reactivated the justice system.