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Prisoners’ nightmare

Malawi Prison budget depleted

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Victor Mhango

By Wezzie Gausi:

The Malawi Prison Service is remaining with only K99 million out for the K1.3 billion budget allocated for the 2022- 23 financial year that runs up to March 31 2023.

The amount, according to Commissioner of Prisons responsible for Operations Masauko Wiscot, is not enough to take the penitentiary institution through to next year.

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Malawi Prison Service is currently holding an average of 16,700 inmates in its 32 establishments spread across the country against a holding capacity of 7,322 inmates, which means congestion levels are at 129 percent.

To tame the situation before it gets out of control, prison officials yesterday asked members of the Parliamentary Committee on Social and Community Affairs to help it get its food rations allocation revised upwards by K786 million to take inmates to March 2023.

President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration has changed the fiscal year to be in line with the agriculture season, such that the 2023-24 fiscal year will become effective on April 1 that year.

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In the 2022-23 fiscal year, prison authorities asked for a budget of K2.3 billion for food rations.

However, they only received K1.3 billion, out of which K1.2 billion has been spent, according to Wiscot.

He said they are remaining with K99 million for food rations, which is not enough to take them to March 2023.

He said the requested amount will cater for the remaining months to avoid over-committing, which may lead to the accumulation of arrears.

“With the increase in prices of maize on the market, prison had to release more funds as compared to what was budgeted for. With the maize the department sourced from Admarc [Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation], the food situation in prisons has improved.

“However, the arrangement has left prisons with no funds for the procurement of supplements such as relish, salt and firewood,” Wiscot said.

Committee Vice Chairperson Bernard Chitekwe said the call by prison authorities was valid.

“We, as a committee, will take the matter to the full Parliament meeting to be deliberated on. We, as a committee, visited Zomba Prison and the situation was very pathetic. We understand the dire need of inmates in different prisons. The department of prison really needs some help,” Chitekwe said.

Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance Executive Director Victor Mhango said the food situation in prisons has reached critical levels.

He said, for some months, inmates have been spending days without food.

“We are happy that the committee has shown interest in helping prisons across Malawi.

“Unlike boarding schools, where there is a certain number of students, prisons have no fixed numbers of inmates as figures keep on changing,” Mhango said.

On October 26 this year, the country’s prisons had 16,649 prisoners. With the figure now at 16,700 inmates, it means 51 more people have joined the prisoners’ line.

According to Centre for Social Concern, the cost of living per household of six people is K307,000, which translates to K51,167 per person per month and K1,705 per day.

Last month, Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Social and Community Affairs Savel Kafwafwa said they would ensure that funding issues are discussed in the National Assembly.

Some of the country’s prisons include Blantyre [commonly known as Chichiri] Prison, Mulanje Prison, Mpyupyu Prison Farm, Mikuyu Prison, Zomba Central Prison, Mangochi Prison, Maula Central Prison, Kasungu Prison, Mzimba Prison, Nkhata Bay Prison and Mzuzu Prison.

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