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Minister Grace Chiumia orders arrests

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Police Sunday arrested 42 National Registration Bureau (NRB) members of staff following an order from Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia.

Chiumia reportedly spotted the group assembled at a park within a shopping mall where, she said, she overheard them discussing and planning on leaking information from the registration exercise, in an attempt to force the NRB to pay them arrears.

But the officers said in separate interviews that the meeting was aimed at mapping the way forward on that matter and that they were yet to arrive at a conclusion.

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“We had a number of items on the agenda, top of it all was the money that the bureau owes most of us. In the course of the meeting, some of our members saw the minister who came to shop and they actually rushed to her to explain our situation and seek her guidance,” said one officer who asked to be identified as Joseph.

He added: “After their brief meeting, we were joined by strange gentlemen. Before we established who they were and what they wanted police appeared and started arresting people.”

According to Joseph, 42 were picked but only 14 spent the night in custody.

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But speaking in an interview at Mzuzu Police Station, Chiumia said her action was “in the spirit of protecting government property”.

She said, before getting to the mall, she was also tipped of the conspiracy by well-wishers.

“I meant no malice in notifying the police, it was a matter of ensuring [that] the police took control of a situation which had the potential of frustrating government business which, in this case, is the national registration exercise,” Chiumia said.

But Youth activist Charles Kajoloweka, who rushed to police after the incident, trashed Chiumia’s explanation, saying it smacks of sheer incompetence on the minister’s part.

He thus challenged the minister to produce evidence of her claims against the officers whom he said have been working under bad conditions since the exercise commenced few months ago.

“When these people saw [Chiumia], as responsible minister, they saw hope and perhaps it was a good coincidence because she was going to hear all their concerns first hand but, unfortunately, here is a minister who saw law breakers in the people who are complaining,” Kajoloweka said.

“Police should be independent and stop acting on political instructions,” he said.

While at the police, there was an exchange of bitter words between Kajoloweka and Chumia who, after being confronted by the youth activist, challenged that he could not fight government.

Police could not grant interviews but The Daily Times established that the group would be charged with unlawful assembly and inciting violence.

NRB spokesperson, Norman Fulatira, said the bureau is handling the matter with the United Nations Development Fund and is hoping for a solution.

Meanwhile, the officers have vowed to shut all registration centres in Mzuzu and surrounding districts starting Monday until their demands are met and charges against their colleagues dropped by police.

It is not the first time that the officers have boycotted work to fight for better perks and working conditions.

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