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Mystery over diaspora students’ Covid-19 funds

Williams Banda

Malawian students in diaspora have cried foul over Coronavirus (Covid-19) funds from the government that were meant to help them during the pandemic as most of their host countries had instituted lockdown.

Students from China,Taiwan and India who we have spoken to, could not hide their frustrations over how Malawian embassies allegedly failed to disburse the relief funds to some of the needy students.

Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had indicated that it would reach out to 292 students in China.

However, after the funds were released to Beijing for the embassy to distribute to the students, the embassy allegedly only gave out to less than 30 students, leaving more than 150 without help.

The students, who opted for anonymity for fear of being targeted but spoke through the leadership of the Association of Students in China, said the embassy is not forthcoming with information, further claiming that it seems some other students are being taken off the beneficiaries’ list.

“We are in a situation very difficult to explain. The embassy seems to be playing a dirty game on us. Government said they sent money for 292 students, but the embassy here says they got money for only 209 students,” one of the students said.

Another student pursuing a master’s degree said the embassy is not transparent and accountable in as far as the cushion funds are concerned.

“The Government touted to have helped 292 students while the embassy claims that the government sent funds only for 209 students. It is hard to know who is lying. But the government is aware of all these contradictory messages and doesn’t want to clarify anything,” the student said.

President of Malawian students in Taiwan, Bright Mbeya, said the students raised the matter of relief through the Malawi Embassy in China but have not been assisted, despite several attempts to reach out to the embassy.

“We were promised to be among the student beneficiaries stranded in Asia. But up to now they haven’t assisted us. But our friends in Mainland China have received the money from the embassy.

“We have been writing the embassy in China and the Ambassador himself promised us that he will help us and he requested us to submit all our details and we did that. But when we wrote again to the embassy to ask about the progress, they are not responding,” he said.

The scenario is not much different for close to 190 students pursuing studies in India.

Ifeyo aku india [those of us based in India] we are about 190 but only three government sponsored students are believed to have received the aid package, the rest of us nothing…it’s been months and the embassy is not doing much about it, they keep tossing us to offices in Malawi… We have spent months because we entered into lockdown earlier and the Covid-19 cases here are higher, we have not received even one Kwacha,” one of the students, who is pursuing a master’s degree, said.

There was no immediate response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as officials kept tossing us to one another, with outgoing ministry spokesperson Rejoice Shumba referring us to the ministry’s Principal Secretary Lucky Sikwese who directed us to his Personal Assistant.

However, we sent a questionnaire [last week Friday] which was not responded to as we went to press and efforts to speak to Foreign Affairs Minister, Eisenhower Mkaka, Friday did not yield much as he was engaged at a function by the Indian High Commission in Lilongwe.

Earlier, Ministry of Finance spokesperson Williams Banda referred us to the Department of Human Resources Management, saying they are the ones who handle such issues.

“They push the request to us but they have the list and they know them so talk to them,” he said.

Efforts to speak to officials from the Department of Human Resource Management proved futile as they could not pick up our calls.

Covid-19 affected a lot of countries and the economy as a whole.

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