ONE of the ‘‘lacunas’’ in the governance system that has stood out unattended like a swore thumb is the glaring disparity between the salary of a Member of Parliament, a city or municipal council chief officer and ward councillor.
For years this anomaly has been allowed to trouble our conscience as a nation and now we are so used to the injustice that when councillors for the umpteenth time complain that they are getting a raw deal, we all seem to think they are simply trouble-makers.
The admission by the Local Government Association of Zambia (LGAZ) that indeed councillors deserve better in view of the enormous role they play at local government and political level is refreshing and should be supported by all, especially their erstwhile competitors at grassroots level, the Members of Parliament.
How can one explain the anomaly that the salary of an MP is K28,000; Executive Mayor of a city council is K26,000; chief officer of municipal council is K20,000 and the ward councillor gets K700 monthly allowance! What is wrong with being a councillor? If it was a job for the uneducated, now you have to be Grade 12 to qualify.
We agree with LGAZ that councillors must have their conditions of service improved just like all other public officers. After all they are the first line of defence in the governance system. They live together with the villagers and residents and work 24/7; they are the politicians on the ground to whom citizens cry for help long before the MP or district commissioner gets to know about it.
They sit on all the committees that govern the district council, municipality or city council. They approve applications for land, trading and liquor licences as well as manage local authorities and execute Government decisions affecting their respective areas for the betterment of residents.
Councillors plan, design and implement the development of their wards. They are responsible, together with the Member of Parliament, how to effectively utilise the Constituency Development Fund. Now they will supervise the work of Ward Development Committees which are the catalysts of grassroots development under the revamped decentralization policy.
Now that power has been devolved from central government to the districts, which will have their own budgets to run schools, health centres, agricultural projects and women and youth tasks, the role of the ward councillor has become more demanding. He or she has become the jack of all trades and, salary wise, a master of none.
The amended Constitution confers on the councillor the ‘‘perpetual political duty’’ of attending to all aspects of political and civic governance in the ward and proposes that for the first time since Independence they must be paid a salary, and not an allowance. They may not earn as much as an MP but at least something respectful to motivate them.
The challenge is that they are so many and they have been left out of the 2017 national Budget. Finance minister Felix Mutati has put it on record that there will be no supplementary estimates this time around.
‘‘We cannot pay what we cannot afford,’’ he says. In other words whatever is not budget for this year must wait for next year. This is the reason why LGAZ president Christopher Kang’ombe and a senior Patriotic Front official in Kitwe have appealed to councillors to be patient and not hold the Government at gunpoint.
While their demands are genuine and long overdue, councillors must follow procedure and learn to negotiate. They must not arm-twist Government because the issue calls for high-level and wide consultation to effect the change should it become necessary. Finding money to pay the thousands of our civic leaders a monthly living wage is not easy.
It may call for the removal of certain vital public benefits or services to raise the massive local government wage bill.