Minister’s week promise calms down prison warders

On the second day of a nationwide prison warders’ strike over pay, Zomba Maximum Prison staff yesterday rebuffed a call by newly appointed Chief Commissioner of Prisons Wandika Phiri to end the strike.

But later in the day, it took the presence of Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia for the warders to call off the sit-in, for just seven days, counting on her promise that government will resolve the matter during that time.

Chiumia (L) addresses some senior prison officers at Zomba Maximum Security Prison yesterday

The minister, who addressed the wardens outside the prison, as the entrance into the institution was blocked with tree branches and handcuffs, said the salary increment that has been made to the Malawi Police Service officers is an on-going process in her ministry.

She appealed to the officers to resume duties as her ministry is engaging other stakeholders in government.

“I will come back here in one week’s time to give you whatever feedback on the outcome of the meetings the ministry will have with other stakeholders,” she said.

Earlier in the day, one of the warders, who asked for anonymity, said they rebuffed Phiri’s call because it was verbal.

As the day broke, warders at the correctional facility were seen in an uncompromising mood, as they blocked the entrance to the prison, burning tyres while chanting songs of discontent.

“We are not interested in any verbal communication, but a written document with assurance that salary disparities between us and the Malawi Police Service officers, who are of the same ranks with us are harmonised,” said the warden.

A spontaneous nationwide strike by the prison warders paralysed services across the country on Friday. But on Friday, Prison Service spokesperson Smart Maliro downplayed the industrial action, saying only small groups of warders were involved at the three major prisons of Zomba, Maula and Zomba.

“It is just a small misunderstanding that started after people allegedly heard that the Malawi Police Service is due to raise salaries for its officers,” Maliro was quoted by our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, as saying on Friday.

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