By Cyril Zenda
HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Parliament is expected to debate retirement benefits for the country’s top civil servants, which are now likely to increase as government seeks to take good care of its pensioned Statesmen.
The development would benefit sacked vice president, Joice Mujuru, who is currently contemplating a plunge into opposition politics to challenge her former boss for the country’s top job.
It would also cushion the incumbent, President Robert Mugabe, should he decide to retire.
The proposals mean that there will be no lifestyle disruption for the President as he is likely to continue enjoying the same perks once out of office.
This may include even treatment abroad for himself and members of his family. Mujuru’s ally, former presidential affairs minister and ex-ZANU-PF secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, is also lined up for a major windfall as he too will also likely get a good pension as Zimbabwe’s first black speaker of Parliament at Independence in 1980.
Mutasa is reportedly already getting a pension as a former Cabinet minister, having held different ministerial portfolios over the past 20 years.
The proposed amendments could also benefit Janet Banana, the widow of Zimbabwe’s first president, Canaan Banana; Maud Muzenda, widow of the late former vice president Simon Muzenda; Maria Msika, the widow of former vice president Joseph Msika; and surviving former speakers of Parliament or their spouses.
According to the Finance Bill, which has been given top priority during the eighth Parliamentary sitting which started this week, government has proposed amendment of the Presidential Pension and Retirement Benefits Act, which would result in the legislation entitling former presidents and vice-presidents to a pension equivalent to the total pensionable emoluments (salary and pensionable allowances) of a sitting office-holder.
This would be a hefty improvement on the perks given to former presidents and vice-presidents by the country’s Constitution, which only provides for annual salaries for retired statesmen.
The proposed amendment has deleted the term annual salary in relation pensions payable to former presidents and vice presidents and surviving spouses and children and substituted this with “pensionable emoluments” – all the salary, fees and other payments paid to the former presidents or vice presidents for their own use in respect of their former employment.
This means they will receive payments or benefits specified in their contract of employment as if they were still serving in government. An amendment has also been proposed for the pensions payable to former speakers and deputy speakers of Parliament and their surviving spouses in terms of the Parliamentary Pensions Act.
The retired speakers and deputies would no longer be just entitled to annual salaries but would also have annual pensionable emoluments, making their salaries and perks equivalent to current office holders.
Mutasa was Zimbabwe’s founding speaker of Parliament and served from 1980 to 1990 before becoming a career Cabinet minister and a Member of Parliament until the ruling ZANU-PF party dismissed him from the party and consequently government in December last year. He was later recalled from the House of Assembly in March.
Mujuru and Mutasa were sacked from ZANU-PF along with many others for allegedly plotting to unconstitutionally topple President Mugabe from power.
None of them has been hauled to court for the alleged offense, which former information minister Jonathan Moyo later admitted were mere “political banter”.
According to the Parliamentary Pensions Act, any person who served for a minimum of one full term as Speaker of Parliament anytime from 1980 is entitled to a pension.
This pension is suspended if the person becomes a government minister or a MP, but should be restored the moment the person ceases to hold that public post.
According to an explanatory memorandum, the amendments would bring the existing statutory provision for these pensions in line with other high-level State pensions by basing them on “annual pensionable emoluments” (which include pensionable allowances) instead of the current lesser “annual salary”.
Mutasa told the Financial Gazette this week that he was not aware that he was entitled to a pension as former speaker of Parliament, and had therefore not received any. He said the only pension he was receiving was from his service to government as a Cabinet minister.
“I have been receiving a pension from the government as a former member of the executive. If there is a pension that I am specifically entitled to as a former speaker, maybe they are still processing that and they will give me,” Mutasa said.
Legal watchdog, Veritas, pointed out in its commentary that the proposed changes to the pension payable for former presidents and former vice presidents could be inconsistent with the Constitution, which simply entitled former presidents and vice presidents to annual salaries.
“Clause 21 (of the Finance Bill) is inconsistent with the Constitution [section 102(3)] which lays down what a former president or vice-president is entitled to receive on retirement,” Veritas said.
In August, a full nine months after Mujuru was sacked from the her government post, the State gazetted Statutory Instrument (SI 86 of 2015) of August 7, 2015, announcing her pension and terminal benefits in terms of the Constitution.
The Constitution entitles an ex-vice president to the salary of a sitting vice president and allowances and others benefits “prescribed under an Act of Parliament”.
The Act, apparently, is the Presidential Pension and Retirement Benefits Act which government is now seeking to amend.
Mujuru, who is planning to join opposition politics under an outfit named People First, has reportedly declined the government pension.
The suggestion had been that the State was seeking to control her activities by giving her generous perks, which included State accommodation, State security, maids and gardeners. But legal experts criticised Mujuru’s refusal of the pension.
“The pension and terminal benefits are constitutional entitlements, not a favour from the State or from ZANU-PF, the ruling party,” said UK-based lawyer, Alex Magaisa.
But he noted: “There is a point of a technical nature that must be made. It is that the State may have erred in prescribing the allowances and benefits in a statutory instrument instead of an Act of Parliament and for this reason the Parliamentary Legal Committee may wish to scrutinise the constitutionality of SI 86/2015.
“In terms of s. 102(3) (b), the allowances and other benefits are as prescribed in “an Act of Parliament” and not a statutory instrument as the State appears to have done in the current case. The new Constitution made a specific point of defining an Act of Parliament in Section 131 and specifying in Section 134 that primary law-making power could not be delegated.” Financial Gazette