By Mandy Potani
Tension is brewing among prison warders and junior officers in the country with some threatening to stage a sit-in against government over Covid-19 risk allowances.
The officers say, contrary to their expectation, government is giving the allowances to selected officers, alleging they are all working in a risky environment.
The prison officers have also complained that they are not being given Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) against Covid-19, an allegation which national spokesperson for Malawi Prison Service (MPS) Chimwemwe Shaba trashed in an interview yesterday.
He, however, refused to comment on selective allocation of risk allowances.
“On that, I cannot comment anything but the service bought PPEs which were distributed to all stations and I doubt if those complaining know what they are talking about,” he said.
One of the warders in Nkhotakota who asked to be identified as Vincent said Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda committed that all the warders and junior officers be considered for the K50,000 allowance.
“We are surprised that the money is being given to only those working in isolation centres, which is contrary to what the minister said. This has created divisions in the Malawi Prison Service because all of us are equally at risk of contracting coronavirus,” Vincent said.
He said the mass testing that was conducted in prison facilities did not cater for everyone such that most of the inmates are suspected coronavirus carriers.
Our other source form Mzuzu who opted for anonymity asked government to consider the various risks that the warders face in line of duty apart from the Covid-19, which he said equally call for compensation.
In April this year, junior prison officers from prison facilities across the country staged a strike in an effort to force government to give the MPS an allocation out of the K157 billion Covid-19 funds.
On August 13, after the strike was called off, Secretary to Treasury wrote a memo to Secretary of Homeland Security informing him of the approval to pay risk allowances to 2,436 prison officers.
“I wish to inform you that Treasury has approved payment of risk allowance to some grades of prison officers for a period of three months with effect from June1, 2020…” the memo reads.
The Sunday Times has it on authority that the prison department got an allocation of K100 million to cater for the risk allowances in the three months. Executive Director for Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance Victor Mhango has called on government and MPS to sort out the risk allowances once and for all.
“This is bound to continue denting the image of the MPS and I must say that those complaining are justified because they work in shifts and continuously interact with inmates who are all potential Covid-19 suspects. Just like health workers are compensated wholesomely, so should be the prison officers,” he said.
As of Friday September 12, MPS had 142 active Covid-19 cases, 189 recoveries and two registered deaths, with the cases spread across the four major isolation centres in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu.