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Government whips diplomats

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By Rebecca Chimjeka

Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has with immediate effect revoked the diplomatic statuses of all the nine recalled diplomats who were protesting their return home from the United States (US).

Led by Malawi ambassador to the US Edward Sawerengera, the envoys recalled from New York and Washington obtained a court order stopping government from proceeding with the process until their luggage shipping concerns were addressed.

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The emissaries have been against government keeping their personal effects in containers before shipping them to Malawi after they would have already returned home.

They went ahead to seek permission from the court so that the order that they should return home by January 14 should go for a judicial review.

But in his judgement of Friday, High Court judge Simeon Mdeza threw out the application and consequently rejected the request that recalling the diplomats should be suspended.

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“The court is satisfied that the claimants [the diplomats] have not established adequate legal grounds for the grant of the relief sought. In the court’s considered view, there seems to be no serious issue for further inquiry in a judicial review proceeding.

“The only issue that is in contention being the safety of the claimants’ personal effects which, if a proper record is maintained, may adequately be remedied by way of damages in case of partial or even total loss,” reads part of Mdeza’s ruling.

He adds that since granting an order to stay government’s decision to recall the diplomats was conditional upon the court permitting the judicial review, the rejection of the application means the stay cannot succeed.

“In view of the foregoing, I proceed to dismiss the claimants’ application for permission to commence judicial review proceedings and the application for stay.

“Accordingly, the interim order staying implementation of the defendant’s decision contained in his letter of 15th December 2021, that I made on 14th January 2021, is discharged,” the judge says.

In an interview yesterday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Rejoice Shumba confirmed the revocation of the diplomatic statuses of the nine diplomats who sought the court’s intervention.

She said the Malawi Government has already informed the US Government about its decision and that from Friday, the envoys are in that country on their own terms.

“We recalled about 70 diplomats and 50 of them have already returned home. Of those remaining, nine went to court and they are the ones whose diplomatic statuses have been revoked. For the others, we are still processing their return,” Shumba said.

Sawerengera and his colleagues in the US faulted government for using a single Malawian freight company to ship their personal effects back home.

The diplomats argued that the process of shipping the luggage has become expensive and tedious because of the single handler arrangement.

The expenses are borne by the government.

Last month, then- Ministry of Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Luckie Sikwese wrote some diplomats such as Sawerengera, accusing them of delaying the ministry’s efforts to bring them back home.

In a letter he signed, Sikwese indicated that the ministry was serious with the intention of recalling the diplomats.

“Deducing from the demands which you have made on behalf of the other recalled diplomats at the mission and on your own behalf during the last two virtual meetings… it is clear that you are, indeed, obstructing the ministry’s efforts to have the recalls implemented,” the letter read.

Sawerengera and the other diplomats were reportedly demanding that their luggage be loaded into containers and transported straight into the shipping vessels in readiness for departure and not to a warehouse.

From 2020, government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been recalling diplomats from foreign missions while also appointing others to take up various roles there.

On August 25 last year, the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament approved the appointment of 18 heads of mission that President Lazarus Chakwera had appointed on June 14 that year.

Shumba said the recalled diplomats are those that finished their tours of duty. The list shows that some of them were attachés whose contracts expired as far back as 2009, but 12 years down the line, they are still at the embassies on government payroll.

Apart from Sawerengera, other recalled diplomats are Robert Salama (Geneva), George Mkondiwa (India), Ted Kalebe (Belgium), Brian Bowler (Brazil), Perks Ligoya (New York), Agrina Mussa (Kenya) and Charles Namondwe (China).

Almost all staff at the London Mission in the United Kingdom are on recall.

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