RB's House - Feeding the Already Fat while Millions Starve
Following the handover of former president Rupiah Banda’s retirement house activist Laura Miti questions the generous provisions for former leaders given that the majority of Zambians live in poverty. Miti writes:
“The Benefits of Former Presidents Act sets out the following benefits for a President when s/he leaves office.
a) A tax-free monthly pension at the rate of eighty per cent of the incumbent President's emoluments;
b) Where a former President who is entitled to the pension and other benefits conferred by this Act dies while in or after having left office, his spouse and any children of the family who have not attained the age of twenty-one years shall be entitled jointly to- (a) a tax free monthly pension at the rate of fifty per cent of the incumbent President's emoluments; and (b) the benefits set out in items 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Schedule.
1. An office.
2. One personal secretary.
3. Three security persons.
4. Three cars, with free maintenance, and petrol entitlement to the extent determined by the Cabinet, but only one car for the surviving spouse.
5. Three drivers, but only one for the surviving spouse.
6. One Administrative Assistant, who shall be at the level of Deputy Permanent Secretary.
7. Three house employees, which number may be increased by Cabinet.
8. A diplomatic passport for the former President and his spouse.
9. A furnished house built or bought in Zambia by the State at a place of the former President's choice and ownership of the house shall be transferred to him.
10. Medical insurance for the former President and his spouse.
11. In each year, one return air ticket for the former President and one for his spouse.
12. Funeral Expenses on his death.
So first there is clearly no limit on how much can be spent on a former President’s house and the Ministry of Infrastructure cannot legally be held to account for blowing 25 million Kwacha on RB’s house. It came down to budgetary choice making.
Here is my question though. In a country in which so many people are dirt poor - barely enough food to survive on, very undignified housing, no water, no electricity no jobs, crap education and health system - why would government build a 25 million Kwacha house siting on 25 hectares of prime land for a former President who already has the above heavenly benefits? Why not build a comfortable, functional house on a couple of acres? For goodness sake, even after a president dies his dependents are set. Why are our priorities so upside down? Why does our government not ask the simple question - is this the best use of this public money itching in our hands, given all the competing needs of the citizens we preside over? What does RB himself think about all this? Are we now in the process of building such super structures for the FTJ, Mwanawasa and Sata estates? Do the individuals in power understand what would happen if the people of Chibolya, Kalilikil , kwa Mulenga, Chipulukusu made the connection that money that belongs to them, money that could improve their painfully undignified lives is being shared by the powerful and connected like this?”