Windhoek-Swapo parliamentarians debated against a parliamentary motion calling on the government to improve the perks, salaries and other benefits paid by the government to traditional leaders and their subordinates.
Currently 51 traditional leaders each receive $2,376, while senior traditional councillors each pocket N$2,112 and ordinary traditional councillors get a monthly salary of N$1,848.
But this is only part of the story as traditional leaders get the bulk of their income from the raft of levies they impose on their subjects and are also entitled to a percentage their subjects pay in traditional courts.
The motion, tabled by Nudo MP Meundju Jahanika, called on the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development to change the traditional leaders’ allowances paid by the state.
Jahanika said the allowances should become salaries and include benefits such as medical aid and pension.
“Generally, traditional leaders don’t possess a lot of political power but do play an imperative advisory role to the government, while adding crucial muscle in local disputes prevalent in their respective areas,” he said.
According to Jahanika, traditional leaders also assist regional councillors in identifying development projects in their respective areas.
He argued that chiefs are not only confined to preserving traditions and culture but also assist in the fight against hunger and poverty.
Many Swapo MPs who contributed to the debate opposed the motion, saying traditional leaders should be paid by their subjects, as is done in many African countries.
Swapo MP and Minister of Land Reform, Utoni Nujoma, shot back at the motion, saying traditional leaders do not need salaries as most of them serve the government in various capacities.
“We should stop this thing of glorifying people, let their subjects sustain them,” he said.
Swapo MP and Safety and Security Minister, Major-General (Rtd) Charles Namoloh, was of the opinion that traditional leaders do not need salaries as their communities have millions of dollars in their bank accounts that they can use to pay them.
Also contributing to the debate, Swapo MP and Sport, Youth and National Service Minister, Jerry Ekandjo, said if traditional leaders are paid by the government their positions would be compromised.
“Chief Katjikururume never received any salary from the apartheid government – he survived from his subjects and in this regard he was never compromised, let their subjects support their leaders,” he said.
Briefing the House on the current allowances paid to recognised traditional authorities, Swapo MP and Urban and Rural Development Minister, Sophia Shaningwa, said currently the government also pays a monthly allowance of N$2,640 to the chairperson of the Council of Traditional Authorities, N$2,376 to the deputy chairperson and N$2,376 each to 51 chiefs.
On top of that, Shaningwa said, the government also pays N$1,320 to 51 chiefs’ secretaries, each, and N$1,100 to 51 chiefs’ drivers, each.
“Traditional leaders, unlike government employees, are not entitled to a monthly salary but are paid allowances and are not entitled to other benefits such as pension, medical aid and social security,” she added.
She said this is because they are not employees of the government.
“The government also provides traditional leaders with the means to enable them to excise their statutory powers, for them to perform their duties and functions more effectively,” she said.
She said for this purpose, vehicles have been allocated to chiefs and their traditional authorities and offices, which were constructed to aid smooth administration.
She said traditional authorities may establish a community trust fund for which the ministry allocates N$50,000 each.