Army retirement age cut
By Andrew Kunambura
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s administration could be preparing for a major security sector shake-up after gazetting new defence regulations that set fresh retirement ages for personnel serving in the uniformed forces.
The Ministry of Defence, working in consultation with the Defence Forces Service Commission, has recommended amendments to the Defence Act, which will see all soldiers now retiring at the age of 50 years, down from the previous 60 years, unless if one has been asked to continue serving at the recommendation of the defence minister.
That ministerial approval only comes at the request of the commander of the defence forces. This is likely to affect scores of top army chiefs and their subordinates who are still serving after attaining the new retirement age.
Last week, government gazetted Statutory Instrument (SI) 50 of 2016 titled Defence (Regular Force) (Officers) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (No. 7). The SI repeals the Defence Regulations SI 135 (No.6) of 2014.
The SI serves as much as the law for six months, subject to its renewal or annulment. It’s gazetting could be one of the many cost-cutting measures being employed by President Mugabe’s financially hamstrung administration.
Government is currently grappling with an unsustainable wage bill taking away more than 80 percent of its income. The civil service is seeking to lay off a significant chunk of its bloated workforce, totalling an excess of 550 000 employees, at the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
IMF Zimbabwe chief of mission, Domenic Fanizza, has warned government that it would need to balance its primary accounts, chiefly by cutting the wage bill to below 52 percent of expenditure. Government has responded to the advice by instituting a civil service audit to weed out ghost employees.
Public Service Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Prisca Mupfumira, claimed last week that the audit was already bearing fruit, with government now expected to save about US$300 million this year from job cuts.
Until now, government has carefully avoided tempering with the security sector, preferring to hit softer targets such as teachers, nurses and other organs of the civil service.
But it appears there would be no sacred cows this time around for a government desperately seeking fiscal space from anywhere to wiggle out of the socio-economic muddle it finds itself in.
Reads the notice published in the Government Gazette: “The Defence (regular force) Regulations, 1988, published in Statutory Instrument 152 of 1988, is amended in section 15 (retirement) by the repeal of subsections 4, 5, 6 and 7.”
The amendment to subsection 4(a) reduces the retirement age for all army officers to 50 from 60.
“A permanent service officer shall, whatever the length of his or her pensionable service, retire on attaining the age of 50 years. If the minister (of defence), on recommendation of the commander, considers that it is desirable in the public interest, he or she may allow that officer to continue for a period of five years until she attains the age of 55,” reads the amendment.
Thereafter, the officers would serve at the mercy of the commander and the minister and can be dismissed on notice immediately after being reappointed.
“If that officer is allowed to continue to serve, the commander may, on giving 12 months written notice to the officer of his or her intention to do so, require him or her to retire before he or she has served that period,” it further reads.
Those who would have attained the age of 55 will only be allowed to continue serving on presidential approval. An amendment to subsection five of the Defence Act reads:
“A permanent service officer who has continued to serve in terms of subsection 4(a) (that is after attaining the age of 50) shall retire on attaining the age of 55 years unless if the President, on recommendation of the minister, considers that it is desirable in the public interest. He (the president) may allow that officer to continue to serve for a period of five years until he or she attains the age of 60 years.”
Under the new regime, only war veterans will be allowed to serve after attaining the age of 60.
“If the President, on recommendation of the minister, considers that it is desirable in the public interest, he or she may allow an officer who is a war veteran as defined in the War Veterans Act (Chapter 11:15) to continue to serve for a period of five years until he or she attains the age of 65 years.” Financial Gazette