Malawi’s former vice-president Cassim Chilumpha says he is yet to decide on whether to take his ministerial perks or keep his vice-presidency benefits.

In an exclusive interview on Sunday, Chilumpha, whom President Joyce Banda on Thursday appointed Minister of Energy and Mines, said he was not aware about provisions of the President Salaries and Benefits Act which stipulate that the President or the first and second vice-president will lose their benefits if they go back to serve in a public office and draw a public salary.

Dr. Chilumpha: "Undecided on perks"

Section 5(1) of the President Salaries and Benefits Act says: “The pension, other benefits and facilities conferred by this Act on a former president or former vice-president shall not be paid or enjoyed and shall not accrue during any period when the former president or former vice-president, as the case may be, is in receipt of a salary from government of other State body.”

Said Chilumpha: “To begin with, I am not quite sure about the provision you are talking about. Until I have refreshed my mind on the issue, there is very little if anything at all I can say on the issue in view of the Act.

“I will have to look it up before the end of the day as I still have time on the necessary decision to be made. I must say it never crossed my mind until now, but I am sure the Office of the President and Cabinet [OPC] is aware I cannot have both and will take the necessary steps to explain.”

Chilumpha won the Nkhotakota South parliamentary seat as an independent candidate in 2009. He forfeited his parliamentary benefits and maintained his vice-presidency retirement package.

On Thursday, he joined President Banda’s People’s Party (PP). On the same day, his ministerial appointment was announced in the evening.

He said Parliament then explained to him about his “peculiar” situation and provided all information that led him to his decision.

‘I need information first’

Said Chilumpha: “I did not have to look at any Act of law after the explanation. Of course, in every decision, there are trade-offs, but you cannot dwell on what should have been. Once I have information, I shall make my decision.”

Chilumpha is not the only politician to have been caught in such a dilemma.

In 2004, former first and second vice-presidents Justin Malewezi and Chakufwa Chihana, respectively, faced the tough choice of losing their terminal benefits while acting as members of Parliament. Malewezi won the Ntchisi North seat under the People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) whereas Chihana won the Rumphi Central under the Alliance for Democracy (Aford).

Malewezi decided to forfeit his parliamentary perks for the vice-presidency benefits whereas Chihana opted for a combination of parliamentary and ministerial perks and forfeited the latter. This was after Chihana was also appointed Minister of Agriculture and Food Security after becoming an MP.

Some of the benefits enjoyed by a former president, according to the Act, include a lump sum gratuity calculated in accordance with the civil service formula or one-year tax-free salary or whichever is greater.

A former president or vice-president is also entitled to a tax-free monthly pension at 50 percent of his/her salary and a vehicle. Except where a house is provided at government expense, a former vice-president is entitled to a monthly housing allowance equal to 40 percent of his/her salary at the time of ceasing to hold office and is
also entitled to free electricity, water and medical services.

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