Malawi Government needs to raise K1.2 billion (about $7.2 million) to pay salary arrears to Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, other judges as well as junior staff in the Judiciary to stop the industrial action which has paralysed the rule of law in the country.
A Judiciary salary analysis document from Treasury shows that from July 2006 when Parliament approved the salaries to June 30 2009, government will need to cough up K827 million (about $4.95 million).
From July 2009 to December 2011, the arrears total K394 million (about $2.36 million).
To cover the six years, government will need to raise a whopping K1.2 billion to clear the outstanding amounts.
The salaries, as approved by Parliament in 2006, if implemented, will see the Chief Justice in Grade A earn K1 015 407 (about $6 080) per month from the current K822 589 (about $4 926) and the lowest junior staff in Grade K move to K71 377 (about $427) per month from the current K50 599 (about $303).
The monthly wage bill for Judiciary would go up to about K87 million (about $520 958) per month from K65 million (about $389 221).
Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said in an interview on Friday government cannot afford to pay the money.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s obvious to every Malawian that certain demands are simply beyond us…government cannot afford and if you look at the history of this revision, it goes back to 2006 when government was in minority and we had a Parliament which was probably not bothered by whether government could afford this or not,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Lipenga in a phone interview from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unfortunate that we are having such demands when the country is faced with other pressing economic issues which government is trying to find solutions to,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
The Judiciary is the highest paid public institution in the country and their salaries are specified in the Constitution, a headache for Treasury because if they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t implement the salaries as approved, they are in danger of flouting supreme law of the land.
But Austin Kamanga, who is leading a three-week-old industrial action, argued in an interview that if government were serious, it would make a commitment to pay part of the money and precisely indicate in writing when it would finish paying the balance.
Kamanga said had government started paying immediately the terms and conditions of service for the Judiciary approved in 2006, it would not have accumulated this amount.
The strike has led to congestion in police cells across the country.
National police spokesperson Dave Chingwalu said this week suspects with major cases to answer are being sent to prison and those with minor cases are being granted police bail.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is no space in our cells to keep all them,Ã¢â‚¬Â Chingwalu said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There are suspects with minor cases whom we are releasing on bail to create space, but those with major cases are being referred to prisons pending court judgment.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He could, however, not give exact figures of suspects being released on bail and those going to prisons but said on average, close to 1 000 people are arrested per day across the country.
The Malawi Law Society, which staged marches across the country in solidarity with the Judiciary staff, this week said the strike has affected the rule of law as cases are not being heard before the courts thus denying citizens the right to seek effective remedies.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The basis of the strike is that the Executive has failed to implement the revised terms and conditions of service (which include an upward revision of salaries) that was approved by the Judicial Service Commission and the Executive in 2006,Ã¢â‚¬Â the society said in a statement earlier in the week signed by its president John Gift Mwakhwawa.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Executive must note that the revision is a legal obligation and not merely a policy intervention…the Society urges the Executive to immediately take all the necessary steps to resolve the matters that have led to the strike.Ã¢â‚¬Â