27 August 2014

Malawians Shocked By Ministers' Bid for Massive Salary Increases

A proposal by Malawian ministers for a massive salary increase has been blocked by President Peter Mutharika. The move comes as the country is struggling to recover from a corruption scandal.

The proposal would have seen 20 ministers receiving just under 9,000 dollars (6,800 euros) a month in a country where the average public servant's monthly wage is 100 dollars. The cabinet secretary asked for the increase to cover the higher cost of living in the southeast African country. President Mutharika  said it was unethical to increase ministers' salaries when the cost of living was high for every Malawian. Last year western donors withdrew aid from Malawi over a corruption scandal. Deutsche Welle talks to Augustine Magolowondo who is a political analyst based in Lilongwe.

Augustine Magolowondo, does President Mutharika's rejection of the proposed increase mean that ministers will automatically accept less?

I think that would be the natural consequence. I would in fact have been extremely surprised if this kind of proposal were to be accepted because I think that would have been the most unpopular kind of decision this government would have made, after barely 100 days in power.

It would have meant that the ministers would be paid more than the president! How have ordinary Malawians been reacting to this?

Everyone who has come across this news is shocked to imagine that such a proposal could be made because I think it is so unbelievable and incomprehensible. And if it meant the ministers would have been receiving more than the president - this is obviously also something we would not have expected.

Do Malawians see a link between these demands for huge salary increases and the corruption which is troubling the country?

It's a difficult linkage to make but I think what can be said is that it raises questions as to what extent the government - or the people who were thinking about this - are sensitive to the realities that Malawians are going through.

How did this proposal get as far as it did?

That is an issue of discussion because, as it was reported in the press, it comes from the acting chief secretary who basically is the secretary to the president and the cabinet. I think it is something that must also have been discussed with the knowledge of the president or the vice president. As to how it could get that far, I think that is something that is really difficult to understand.

Last year it was revealed in Malawi that officials had stolen 30 million dollars from state coffers. President Mutharika has been in office since May - to what extent has he been able to restore confidence in the state and its institutions?

He still faces a challenge to really instill public confidence because the cases which are being pursued in court remain under investigation and there has been no case which has been concluded.

Do you see Malawi extricating itself from this scandal?

Ultimately I think Malawi has no choice other than to do the right thing. Another challenge that Malawi faces is that its budget is significantly dependent on donors. Under the circumstances they are withholding their budgetary support. So there is only one reasonable way out which would be to ensure that these particular issues are pursued to their conclusion and that Malawi regains her confidence. But that is something of a tall order and I do not see it happening in the near future.

Augustine Magolowondo is a political analyst based in Lilongwe.

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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