The Woes of Council Retirees

Author Godfrey Chitalu

…IDEATIONS…GoddyChitty @Large by Godfrey Chitalu

I VISITED a farmstead for one of my friends who retired from the Council ten years ago. He is well settled and has a small holding replete with shoats, cattle, pigs and an assortment of farm crops. One would think that his Council retirement package did wonders.

He was quick to repudiate that claim; “Ever since I retired, the Council has failed to pay even a quarter of my package. I live on a monthly payout of less than K2000. It will take more than 20 years for them to clear me.” As I toured his farm, he assured me that everything I saw was a result of hard work, advance planning and meticulous savings.

When he insisted on showing me his pension calculations and the agreement to pay him in monthly bits and pieces, I declined to be a witness to something I had no intention of solving. I normally keep away from complex issues that seemingly have no solutions.

Many would rightly say the issue of council retirees is something that has vexed successful regimes in our country, mainly due to the erosion of council income generating activities over time. It is easier to blame the one who pushed for the sale of Council houses, some decades ago. As a beneficiary from one such house, which I bought for K980, my writing might be warped.

Coming back to my retired friend, who now eke out his living from livestock and farm crops, there is need for our local authorities to put their act together.  Although equalization funds go towards viable projects and in a way propping up personal emoluments, most Councils are at sixes and sevens when it comes to retirees.

Of course they rightly contend that it is the responsibility of central government. They conveniently forget that a good authority with multiple income generating ventures is a good baseline for freeing up scare resources. They crave for equalization fund, which unfortunately is quickly thrown into an abyss.

Councils and Councilors forget to generate plans on the land they control. The major asset they have of developing and selling land continue being abused. I’m yet to see a local authority that has successfully earned enough from land which is in abundance. How many local authorities have thought about parceling prime land for say a shopping mall and the proceeds go to their retirees?

When you visit local authorities’ tales on land are the same. On most occasions, Council employees open new land and proceed to title it in their names. Expensive land in most towns is titled in the name of Council officials.

I won’t stop mentioning the fact that in my travels to more than 100 towns and cities in Zambia, I’m yet to meet a local authority that has handled land professionally. Land if well managed can help sort out the cries of retirees, rather than giving them a K2000 monthly payout from a K900,000 pension.

There is also the little problem of allowing local authorities to have a bloated work force. Supervision on this score from their ministry in this regard is lacking. Right now we have hundreds of interns attached at some city councils for nothing. I visited some authorities whose firefighter ratio to equipment is 25:1.

What will happen if those fire fighters retire at the same time? It is inconceivable that a local authority with one Fire truck can have 25 employees in that field. So sorting out the woes of retirees need internal income generation and a ministry that is willing to stem over employment and shake up the whole system.

Within the local authority there is also wastage of money through unwarranted transfers and promotions. The little money wasted in settling and subsistence allowances can go a long way to prop Councils.

Equalization and other government funds can then be channeled to the plight of retirees. Government should stem the haphazard transfers that are rife with the local government commission. I know for a fact that every staff transferred is entitled to subsistence allowance, loading and offloading income and related costs. The current scenario in the local authorities is that every time their commission sits, we expect hundreds of transfers.

The councils also like maintaining white elephants in regard to their motels and lodges. There are very few local authorities that are utilizing the hospitality initiative to the maximum. It is not rocket science for you guys to make your motels and lodges habitable. This industry is a large money spinner if well handled.

The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.

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