Malawi Government’s delay to pay shipping costs has left some former diplomats lamenting that a shipping company in the country is holding on to their household property almost two years after their recall.
Information The Nation has gathered shows that government hired a local shipping agency which ended up subcontracting other international agencies to ship the former diplomats’ belongings in line with terms and conditions set by government.
But the local shipping agency has held on to the containers because government is yet to pay shipping costs and storage fees which have accumulated for the period, it has emerged.
The concerned diplomats have since decried what they described as degrading treatment from government, worsened by the lack of response from the authorities on the matter almost two years after recall.
In an interview at his home in Lilongwe, one of the affected diplomats, Commissioner Isaac Chaona, formerly of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services who served at the Malawi Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil as first secretary, wondered why government has left him to suffer with no good reason.
The misery facing the Chaona family was easy to notice during the visit to their home.
Chaona is unwell and can barely walk without support, a condition his wife said has been worsened by depression.
His wife was part of the interview as Chaona had difficulties to speak for a long time.
Chaona and family are now living in a virtually bare home without necessary items such as beds, kitchen utensils, sofa set and a refrigerator as they wait for government to resolve their issues with the shipping agency.
Narrated the wife: “Actually, we received a recall letter in May 2020 with a three-month notice to get ready for repatriation. But after the three months, there was nothing until we received another letter informing us that government was finally ready with all arrangements for repatriation and that we would be leaving in November of that year.”
She said they packed all their household items in anticipation of repatriation which never took place until December 2022.
“And when the air tickets arrived, we only had about 48 hours to leave, yet we had outstanding issues to resolve, including unpaid rentals and school fees as government could not pay us,” said Chaona’s wife, while showing The Nation official correspondence to this effect from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
She said with the letters of recall, it meant that at some point they could not receive their foreign service allowance and sometimes were skipped for a salary.
Chaona, in a faint voice, confirmed that life since recall has been torturous.
“We have written the ministry to claim our refund, but to no avail. Here we are now, living like this,” he said, pointing at his bare sitting room.
Chaona was appointed from the Immigration Department where he has retired after serving for 35 years. He served in foreign service for eight years.
Journalist Kondwani Munthali, who served at the Malawi High Commission in London, United Kingdom, is another diplomat facing this predicament, including non-payment of gratuity.
In a written response, he said those with money have managed to pay for both shipping and clearing costs estimated in millions of kwacha.
Said Munthali: “But those who had their salaries cut did not have money to pay for luggage, so it ended up in warehouses.
“How many could afford K1.5 million to offset charges, then clearing charges at the Malawi Revenue Authority. One pays about K3 million to clear luggage.”
Another former diplomat who did not want to be named said he stayed abroad for over 10 years and has no household items to use back home.
He said: “I am talking of household items I moved with from here to the foreign mission and those I accumulated there for all this period exceeding over 10 years. It is a whole home.
“Where do I begin from to buy new ones? Some are equipment for business which have been left to rot in a warehouse. I cannot understand this inhumane treatment.”
In a separate interview, another diplomat who was based in the USA, but did not want to named, also bemoaned how they have ended up seeking refuge at a relation’s home as they could not manage to replace household items without an income.
The diplomat said his family was waiting for both valuables and his gratuity which is usually paid few months after recall, according to some former diplomats we have spoken to.
According to Book Four (4), which is part of the Malawi Public Service Regulations (MPSR), government is expected to foot all shipping expenses for household items for diplomats upon their recall.
This book also compels government to provide hotel accommodation to the diplomat before departure and when they arrive in Malawi while waiting for luggage for specified time.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not responded to our inquiry submitted two weeks ago. The ministry’s spokesperson John Kabaghe asked for more time to respond to our questionnaire submitted over two weeks ago.