Editor's Comment

Re-think presidential retirement mansions

PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu (second from right) during the handover of a house for former President Rupiah Banda (centre) in Lusaka’s Makeni area on Thursday. PICTURE: SALIM HENRY/STATE HOUSE

THE stance taken by President Edgar Lungu to forfeit the presidential privilege of having a house built for him after leaving office is a clear demonstration of his selfless leadership.
Though it is his constitutional right, President Lungu has insisted that he does not want Government to build a house for him after leaving State House but would rather borrow money to do so.
“I wish to reiterate my earlier pronouncement that Government will not build me a house even though it is a constitutional requirement. I will borrow money and build my own house,” the head of State said.
President Lungu deserves commendation for making such a bold and sacrificial decision.
This is one of the noblest decisions a leader at his level can ever make, denying himself or herself privileges for the sake of serving the greater good of people under him.
In fact, this is not the first time the head of State is demonstrating such an act of selflessness. There are many more examples.
For instance, just after his re-election in 2016, President Lungu said 10 percent of his salary would be going towards a revolving fund to empower marketeers with capital. The initiative is up and running to date.
President Lungu has indisputably demonstrated that he is a selfless leader who has the interests of the people at heart.
On the constitutional requirement to build former heads of State houses, President Lungu believes there are more national leaders besides the office of presidency who have also contributed to the country and yet they are not entitled to such privileges.
President Lungu is therefore right in saying the law on building former presidents’ houses is restrictive and selective.
It is certainly illogical to single out presidents when there are so many national leaders such as vice-presidents, speakers, chief justices, to mention but a few, who may in their own right deserve such privileges.
Needless to say, in a country where there is a housing deficit of 2 million, is it rational to build mansions for former heads of State?
This is not to undervalue their contributions but at the level of president, we do not expect that one can fail to build their own house.
Former presidents are entitled to 80 percent of the incumbent’s salary every month, besides other entitlements such as paid-for bills and workers among others.
As demonstrated by Mr Lungu, presidents should lead by example by preparing for retirement just like any other citizen.
Given that Zambia is currently operating under austerity measures to try and manage its debt and costs, it is only logical that conditions such as one which requires building former heads of State houses be reviewed.
It is for this reason that we welcome President Lungu‘s proposal to scrap the constitutional clause which requires Government to build houses for former heads of State.
In 2015, President Lungu said: “I don’t think that it is fair and equitable that the state must build a house for a retired President and not for others.
“We have to demonstrate strong commitment to cost-saving measures for now and for the future. I am proposing that this forfeiture starts with me.”
This is leadership that must be emulated by all.
At a time Government is preaching austerity measures, the office of the president should be seen to lead by example.
In a country where more than 50 percent of the population is living below the poverty datum line, building mansions for retired presidents is too much of a luxury to afford.
Zambia as a developing country has so many pressing needs all competing for the meagre resources.
This is probably why Government has taken long to build houses for former heads of State who are due.
As a country, let us first focus on investing the limited resources in areas that will spur development before we can lavish our retired leaders with mansions.

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