After serving the country diligently for 19 years a man retires with hope, but months turn into years of waiting for a retirement package that never came as files disappeared till he died in 2002.
Nobody explains what happened to his benefits and 15 years later, despite a declaration from the Ombusdman, his widow and children are still being shuttled from one office to another without an answer.
This tale of Mackfallen Gambuleni Chilunga, who until his death in 2002 had worked for National Public Events—formerly Nations Celebrations Council (NCC)—as managing executive together with 10 other employees, shows the chaos in administration of pension and deceased estate in the public service.
In an exclusive interview with Nation on Sunday, his wife Modesta said nobody is offering her a plausible explanation why they have not been paid up to now even after the Office of the Ombudsman’s determination in 2001 that he was to be paid his pension having retired at the age of 55 in 1997.
“I had been to every office, Accountant General, ACB, Legal Aid, Attorney General—you name it, but I kept being sent from one office to the next, up until I was informed that the files had gotten lost,” she said.
Chilunga lodged a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman on September 21 2000, and documents from the office show that he also complained on behalf of 10 other workers who were allegedly treated unfairly by their employer after their employment was terminated without following proper procedures.
The documents further show that following a meeting that was convened on April 26 1997 by Timothy Kachepa, principal secretary to district administration, the workers were informed that government had decided to dissolve NCC offices and that government would give them a ‘golden handshake’ in appreciation of their services by May 30 1997.
Luckily, Chilunga and a colleague, a Mr Chimwanza, who was working as senior administration officer, were instructed to identify 12 employees from the office, who would continue working for a smooth transition.
Chilunga was later appointed as deputy managing executive for NCC on December 6 2000 with effect from May 1 1997, on local contract terms. The letter also indicated that his contract was deemed renewed on May 1 2000.
But it is after NCC was changed to National Public Events on September 29 1997 that Chilunga and other complainants realised they were not covered by Malawi Public Service Regulation (MPSR) and that they were not on government’s payroll and were getting their emoluments from Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) on other recurrent transactions (ORT).
Reads a determination by former Ombudsman Enock Chibwana: “It was clear that the issue had two elements namely, employment in the NCC and that government should sort out the status of members of staff from 1977 upwards as civil servants. Chilunga got the impression that the OPC was wrongly advised that staff got their dues upon dissolution of the NCC and, therefore, were not entitled to pension,
“They were entitled to retire at the age of 55. The government is not keen to pay them terminal benefits for the service they rendered in the NCC. Some had served for about 19 years. In Chilunga’s case, he was to be on local contract after serving for 19 years in the NCC. He is, therefore, disadvantaged.”
According to the determination, all former National Public Events employees were civil servants although not everybody was issued with letters of appointment because there was no establishment to warrant them to be put on government payroll at the time.
The Ombudsman found that NCC was dissolved before legislative action and that the complainants lost their jobs involuntarily, adding that although they were offered employment in the National Public Events Unit, they lost higher income expectations and the possibility of retiring at the age of 55.
He, therefore, directed that they be paid what would have been their pension at the age of 55 in the NCC.
But 15 years down the line, Modesta is still trying to make ends meet as she raises her four children while also fighting to receive terminal benefits and pension as a beneficiary of her husband’s estate.
She said: “It hasn’t been easy for my children to go to school. My first born, a boy, was in Form 2 when his father died and he never finished his secondary school and ended up going to South Africa because he couldn’t accept the state of hopelessness that we found ourselves in. I ended up selling property just to send my kids to school, but it was not enough.”
The incumbent Ombudsman Martha Chizuma Mwangonde admitted in a separate interview that similar complaints continue to overwhelm her office.
She said her office has now designed a new approach to have a better leverage in enforcement by engaging Parliament in dealing with public service delivery issues and other abuses of power and negligence.
She explained: “In the USA, before Parliament approves a budget for a particular ministry or department, they ask how many determinations by the Inspector General have been complied with, and if that particular office hasn’t complied, they withhold the allocation or reduce it on the basis of failure to deliver on public service delivery, so that’s the direction I want my office to take in enforcing compliance.
“We have enough enforcement powers; just the law itself is enough because it states that you shall comply by the determinations of the Ombudsman. n