Orders Treasury to pay 2000 former soldiers
After years of fighting and trying to push for their dues, retired Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers can now afford a smile after President Lazarus Chakwera ordered Treasury to immediately release K1.6 billion to pay at least 2000 former men in uniform.
After tired with the lies and promises of the previous regimes including the recent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the soldiers threatened to hold vigils at State House and Capital Hill until they get their outstanding retirement benefits.
Some of the concerned soldiers retired between 2004 and 2009 when the DPP was in government under Bingu wa Mutharika and they have been pushing unsuccessfully since then to have their dues.
Chakwera, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, on Wednesday met the leadership of the disgruntled former MDF soldiers as well as the Commander of the MDF General Vincent Nundwe to find a lasting solution to the issue.
Deputy Minister of Defence Harry Mkandawire and MDF Commander General Vincent Nundwe confirmed in separate interviews they attended a meeting between the President and representatives of the retired soldiers at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, Wednesday morning.
Mkandawire said the President asked Treasury to release K1.6 billion to pay the ex-soldiers.
He said: “I can confirm that Treasury has been asked to release these funds and they will do so in phases. The first half billion kwacha [K500 million] will be released this month.
“The ex-soldiers have been pushing for this since 2013, but this is the first time they have had a chance to meet the Commander-in-Chief and have their issue resolved.”
Mkandawire said with this resolution, he does not expect the ex-soldiers to proceed with the planned vigil.
“They wanted their dues and government has responded to their call. I really do not see the justification for any vigil. Unless if such vigils are organised for a different purpose,” said the Deputy Minister, who is also Malawi Congress Party vice-president.
Retired Staff Seargent Victor Lipenga, who is leading the retired soldiers, said he had a one-on-one with the President who further assured that Treasury will sort out their issues as soon as possible.
He said: “We have taken note of the assurance and the President asked me to remain behind in Lilongwe to ensure that I am in close contact with those working on payment. We hope this will be done as soon as possible, otherwise we have waited for too long.”
On the planned vigil, he said: “We are disciplined and that is why we followed all required protocol. We have been patient for so many years and, in fact, even before we went to the President, we engaged MDF management.”
Lipenga said the number of ex-soldiers who are part of this movement exceeds 2 000, but with different issues.
Sources said besides Chakwera, yesterday’s high-level impromptu meeting was attended by former and current top MDF officials as well as Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs representatives.
The group of about 400 ex-soldiers who retired between 2004 and 2012 lodged a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman for recalculation of their retirement packages which did not include some benefits such as marriage allowances.
In a written response yesterday, Ombudsman Grace Malera said her office is in touch with the office of the Accountant General which is working on the case.
She said: “The Accountant General has made some good progress in recomputation of the payment as per their written brief to my office. We are waiting for ST’s take on the scheme of payment.”
The retired soldiers, among others, want government to consider revising their pension, access to free medical services as stipulated by Section 82 (2) of the Defence Act (Benefits on Retirement), recalculate and pay arrears for the pension and gratuity to all retired soldiers who retired between 2004 and 2009 and funeral benefits to cover all retired soldiers (provision of full military honours during burial of ex-soldiers).
According to Lipenga, pension for a retired private soldier is around K13 000 while a Warrant Officer Class One gets around K80 000.
In August 2020, the ex-soldiers petitioned the National Assembly through the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security to order MDF to abide by and respect the High Court of Malawi ruling in 2013.
The ruling directed government to revise retired soldiers pension, and harmonise pension benefits across ranks so that those who retired at the same rank in the same year should receive equal monthly benefits.