THE start of a pre-budget briefing seminar was delayed yesterday after legislators demanded that Speaker of the National Assembly addresses them on the payment of their outstanding sitting allowances and other benefits.
MPs are owed $15 million in outstanding sitting allowances, while Parliament owes hotels and other service providers approximately $3 million.
The delay yesterday followed disruption of business in the National Assembly on Thursday after angry legislators from across the political divide refused to debate motions until the issue of their welfare had been addressed.
Before the beginning of yesterday’s seminar, Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda, who has been away on leave, acknowledged the outstanding debt to parliamentarians.
“We can solve our problems provided we put our heads together. Nothing is impossible, everything will be alright. What remains outstanding shall all be done. I say this in the presence of the Minister of Finance (Dr Ignatius Chombo) because I have a good relationship with him,” he said. Mabvuku-Tafara House of Assembly member Honourable James Maridadi however asked the Speaker to consider discussing the critical issue before they deliberated on the budget.
I would like to humbly suggest that all people who don’t answer to the words ‘Member of Parliament’ leave this room so that we can discuss this issue once and for all. I am unhappy that we have over 300 MPs but there is less than half of that here,” Mr Maridadi said. Adv Mudenda tried to block the discussion, reiterating that the MPs would be paid what was due to them.
‘Unfortunately, I rule you out of order because what you have raised in Parliament I have been fully briefed (on). I have engaged the Minister of Finance and what is outstanding shall be paid,” Adv Mudenda said. The MPs would have none of it, insisting no business would be conducted until their concerns were addressed. Journalists, parliamentary staff and various presenters at the seminar were asked to leave the conference room while the MPs and the Speaker discussed the matter. The legislators also want Government to disburse Constituency Development Funds, to issue them with diplomatic passports and provide security details for each parliamentarian, among other requests.
They also want Government to honour a pledge made last year to provide them with iPads. MPs earn a fixed salary of $2 000 and receive a sitting allowance of $75. Some of the debts owed to parliamentarians stretch as far back as the Seventh Session of Parliament. Speaking after the meeting that lasted over an hour, Advocate Mudenda said the issue of outstanding allowances would be addressed by the end of this month. He added that he had engaged Minster Chombo for Treasury to avail funds so that Parliament pays its creditors.
“Condition of service, that was the major issue and we should be able to resolve these issues before the end of this month, and I think everyone would be happy. But in terms of the budget, the ball rests with them as members of parliament because they are the ones who pass the budget and that budget must contain the conditions of service to their satisfaction. But if they pass the budget all the time without any qualms at all, it’s their fault. They are raising issues at the end of the Fifth Session of the Eighth Parliament, which issues should have been raised since 2013 and attended to accordingly,” Adv Mudenda said.