Reforms report recommends removing risk allowance for health workers

Saulos Chilima is Vice President of Malawi

The public sector reforms report which was presented to President Lazarus Chakwera in 2021 recommended removal of risk allowances for health workers and sitting allowances for Members of Parliament.

The document has been leaked to the public this week, nearly three years after it was presented to the president by a taskforce led by Vice President Saulos Chilima.  Chakwera intitially promised to make the report public but after receiving it, he refused to do so.

In Malawi, health workers whose jobs are perceived to put them at higher risk of infections are paid risk allowance. It is paid according to grade, and includes those with desk jobs.

However, the report says, all health workers already receive top-up allowances (52% of their salary) for ‘bed-side’ risk and as a retention measure, so the risk allowance is a form of double payment, and likely to cost the government in excess of MK8 billion  a  year.

The report recommends that: “No public officer should be paid risk allowance because most professions have some level of risk. Furthermore, health workers already receive lump sum Top-up Allowance for the risk associated with bed-side work.”

The report also recommends removal of sitting allowances for Members of Parliament (MPs). MPs receive either house allowance if they are living in their own homes or house rent, paid directly to landlords if they are in rented accommodation. Legislators also receive a sitting allowance every time they attend a plenary or committee meeting which are already part of their duties. The report argues that MPs get double allowances and Government loses money.

“MPs are elected and paid to sit and to conduct their parliamentary business of making laws, exercise oversight, and representing their constituents.

“In this case, paying sitting allowances in order for members to fulfil these responsibilities amounts to double payment because they are paid a salary. The overall bill of sitting allowances paid by the National Assembly is MK598,300,000 per annum. Furthermore, these allowances are paid in advance and not recovered when MPs are absent,” the report says.

It notes that allowances, both remunerative and work-facilitating, amounted to K79 billion in the 2019/20 financial year and K77 billion in the 2020/21 financial year

“Subsistence allowances for internal travel comprised K27.4 billion in the 2019/20 FY approved and what was actually used was K6.3 billion more. In 2020/21 FY, K32.3 billion was approved by Parliament as subsistence allowance in the budget.”

The report also recommends a review of salaries of public servants so that the lowest paid employee should receive a salary which responds to the Basic Needs Requirement.

Accountability analysts Willy Kambwandira noted in an interview with local media that Malawi loses billions of taxpayer’s money in allowances, some of of which come about due to greed.

“We must end the culture of padding basic salaries with dozens of hidden and duplicated allowances,” he said.

Meanwhile, social commentator Onjezani Kenani said that the report should have been discussed so that some of the recommendations can be implemented.

“Throwing away the report was not good. The report should have ignited a debate. I’m sure a compromise could have been reached,” wrote social commentator Onjezani Kenani.