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Prison warders on nationwide strike

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Malawi Prison Service (MPS) officers across the country yesterday embarked on a sit-in to force authorities to make grade adjustments as has been done to their counterparts in the Malawi Police Service and Department of Immigration in the 2017/18 fiscal year.

MPS is one of the three departments under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security.

According to a Chichiri Prison [Blantyre] warder who spoke on condition of anonymity, the changes mean there will be salary disparities among officers in Police, Prison and Immigration despite all undergoing similar training and having similar qualifications.

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According to a circular from Secretary for Human Resource Management and Development, Blessings Chilabade, dated July 4, 2017, people who have just been employed on Grade L will be getting an annual salary of K1,168,848 while those on Grade M will be getting K1,013,976 effective July 1, 2017.

According to some officers, one of the contentious issues is that a constable at the MPS is on Grade M, while an officer of the same rank in the Malawi Police Service is on Grade L.

He said, with the current adjustment those that have been promoted to grade L will be carting away home K95, 000 from K75, 000.

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“According to experience, when adjustments such as these are being made in the ministry, they cut across all departments,” he said.

The officers are demanding adjustment of grades, risk and house allowances.

“We used to receive risk allowances in the past but they were scraped off during Bakili Muluzi’s era. We are at risk of contracting diseases such as tuberculosis and the allowance was meant to compensate for that. Again, our counterparts in Immigration and Police receive house allowances but we do not, which is unfair,” he said.

In Lilongwe, officers at Maula Prison vowed that they will not call off the strike which they started yesterday until their grievances are addressed.

“We are not happy that there has been a change in grades between us and officers in the Malawi Police Service. We have discovered that, in Malawi Prisons Service, a constable is on Grade M while a constable in Malawi Police service is on Grade L. At first the grades were the same. This is not fair. We want this issue addressed,” one of the officers said.

When we visited Maula Prison yesterday afternoon, some of the officers were outside the main gate of the prison while others were inside. They sang and danced

Another officer said that they will not call off the strike until government addresses their concerns, which include the provision of risk and housing allowances.

Some people who went to the prison to see their relatives were not assisted. One of them said government should address the warders’ concerns so that the prisoners’ welfare can be prioritised.

“There are some prisoners who cannot take food that is provided there. Some prisoners are on medication and need special food which their relatives bring. This strike has made it difficult for us to give them the food,” she said.

Another one added: “Government should address their concerns as soon as possible. The prisoners need support from their friends and relatives. This strike has made it difficult for those people to provide such support. ”

It was also established that those who are remanded at the prison and were supposed to go to court were not taken there.

A visit to Lilongwe High Court and Magistrate’s Court showed that only suspects who were in police custody and those on bail appeared in court.

There were also reports that in Mzimba District, Karonga District, Mzuzu City and Blantyre City, police officers were stopped from taking suspects who are remanded in prisons to court.

MPS spokesperson, Smart Maliro, said he is aware of the development but ruled out fears of compromise in prison security.

He said, according to information he has, it is only at a few stations such as Maula and Chichiri prisons where officers were seen in groups, perhaps discussing the issue at hand.

“It is not a strike per se but the officers are just complaining against conditions of service. Apparently, they have not formally written officials on their grievances. But, all the same, as Prison Headquarters we are addressing the issue and we are doing all we can to avoid a case where the issue gets out of hand,” Maliro said.

As we went to press, Maliro said he had not seen any communication from the parent ministry on the purported promotions in the civil service.

Department of Human Resource Management and Development spokesperson, Rudo Kayira, said the Ministry of Home Affairs was better placed to comment on the issue.

Home Affairs Minister, Grace Chiumia, said, if the warders had grievances, they should have written the Ministry to express their concerns instead of staging a sit in.

She, however, said she would provide more information after getting to the bottom of the matter.

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