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WFP cuts 63 jobs in Malawi

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By Taonga Sabola

At a time Malawians are eagerly waiting for the start of the initiative that would see the Tonse administration creating one million jobs during the first year in office, the World Food Programme (WFP) has cut 63 jobs in Malawi.

WFP Malawi Country Director Benoit Thiry confirmed the development in a written response to The Daily Times, describing the exercise as an organisational alignment. He said, even after the job cuts, the organisation had correct structures in place to deliver the best assistance to the very poor people in need of assistance in Malawi.

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According to Thiry, the downsizing has been triggered by a number of factors, including the revision of WFP’s geographical presence and overall operations— resulting in a significant shift from In-Kind assistance to more cashbased transfers.

This, Thiry said, has had implications on the size of WFP Malawi’s Supply Chain Unit.

“As you know WFP is entirely voluntary funded, and we depend on the generosity of our donors to operate. While we continue to receive enormous support, WFP funding forecast for 2021 is the lowest ever in the last five years.

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“The current staffing structure is a carryover from the 2016/17 El Nino massive emergency response. The current operational footprint and programme of work calls for a review to WFP’s organisational structure to ensure that it has both the right size of staff capacity and capabilities to support the government to achieve zero hunger by 2030.

“At the same time, WFP Office, as well as many others, has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic which has incurred additional operational costs and has implications on our budget,” Thiry said.

He noted that, while WFP had issued 63 termination letters to local staff, the organisation would also recruit for 23 new positions.

“This is done by fairness [sic] for all staff as the staffs who have been affected can then re-apply through a competitive process. This means that, in total, we will reduce the national workforce by 40 [people],” Thiry said.

However, some of the affected employees claimed that the exercise was aimed at removing Malawian staff members from positions and replacing them with expatriates.

But Thiry said WFP was also terminating seven international positions, adding that some of the positions would be converted to national (Malawian-held) positions.

“For instance, the position of Head of Logistics in Blantyre SubOffice was previously held by an international staff and will be held by a national from Malawi in the new structure.

“You may think that nationals are more affected (40 terminations against seven for nationals) but this is untrue. Looking at the workforce, we have at the moment 207 national positions (87 percent) and 30 international positions (13 percent). This means a reduction in staffing of 23 percent for International staff and 19 percent for national staff,” he said.

Thiry observed that, once the exercise was completed, WFP would still employ 167 Malawians, in addition to staff working for all its non-State actor partners, contractors and suppliers.

He said WFP management team had already met with representatives of the workers several times to explain the process, rationale and address their concerns.

“It is important to underline that almost all our assistance now will be delivered in cash. This means that the poor people we assist can determine what to purchase using local markets, hence the benefit of our operation will also extend to those farmers who will sell their products, the shops and all the other Malawians involved in the supply chain.

“In addition, it is also important to underline that WFP will continue to use almost exclusively Malawian vendors for its purchases, in terms of administrative assistance, and transportation,” Thiry said.

WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, the largest one focused on hunger and food security, and the largest provider of school meals. Founded in 1961, it is headquartered in Rome and has offices in 80 countries.

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