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Malawi’s diplomatic shame:


Gift Trapence

Some of the diplomatic staff that the government sent out to Malawi’s foreign missions lack the capacity to make substantive contribution.

They clearly don’t understand their role.

They are not keen to work.

They report to work late yet are the first to leave.

Some typically display tendencies of being on a leisure tour.

This is the wording of a paragraph in minutes of a virtual meeting which Malawi’s heads of missions held on June 22, 2022.

The meeting was chaired by Malawi’s diplomat to Brussels and former Reserve Bank of Malawi deputy governor, Naomi Ngwira.

In the meeting, the heads of missions bemoaned the quality of staff government has deployed to the country’s embassies.

The diplomats complained they are failing to discipline their staff.

“HOMs [head of missions] experience difficulties disciplining the errant staff or enforcing accountability,” reads the minutes, citing a number of reasons for that failure.

One of the reasons is that the embassies have not been provided with any performance criteria to use for continuous assessment of the staff.

In the absence of such criteria, they say, the heads of missions end up using own initiative to assess performance based on set targets. But this approach is failing.

“This approach is resisted in some missions and may not be effective because the diplomats know that the practice has not been sanctioned from MoFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] headquarters, especially that their job descriptions come from headquarters,” read the minutes.

The heads further indicate that the chaos in Malawi’s embassies is a result of political affiliations.

“Some diplomats’ impunity comes from their political connections; therefore, feel they are indispensable,” reads the minutes.

The diplomats have thus asked the government, among other recommendations, to give them powers to discipline and effect recall of some of the diplomats in different missions.

When asked to comment on the matter, Ministry of Foreign affairs spokesperson John Kabaghe asked for more time.

“The issue is sensitive. I need more time in order to give out a response,” Kabaghe said.

Chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Gift Trapence said as long diplomatic appointments continue to depend on political affiliations, these problems will persist in the embassies.

“HRDC calls for government to be employing qualified people and give all Malawians equal opportunities by employing on the basis of merit,” Trapence said.

Willy Kambwandira of the Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat) has since called for a transparent functional review of the country’s foreign missions to determine the correct staffing size and needs.

He said it is obvious that Malawi’s foreign missions have become preserves for political appeasement and cartels for defrauding Malawians.

“There is serious need to conduct a transparent functional review of our missions to establish their staffing needs, size and roles of staff, and strategic goals. Otherwise, we cannot continue populating our missions with political party stalwarts who are literally contributing nothing,” Kambwandira said.

In his State of the Nation Address of February 10, 2021 President Lazarus Chakwera said his administration had deployed 166 diplomats to foreign missions.

In June 2021, the South African government kicked out of that country several of Malawi’s diplomats after they were found guilty of peddling duty-free alcohol.

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