Government has told teachers that it will start deducting salaries for absenteeism and pursuing all cases of abscondment from duty for over five days which could see some teachers losing their jobs.
The decision has attracted criticism from Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) and the Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) on why government has only singled out teachers when their bosses and civil servants in other ministries and departments, including those at Capital Hill, go unpunished for the same absenteeism and abscondment.
The communication to deduct the salaries is contained in a circular dated May 15 from principal secretary for Education, Science and Technology Dr. MacPhail Magwira, advising ministry directors, education division managers, district education managers, principals of teacher training colleges (TTCs) and all heads of education institutions to adhere to the circular.
“It has been observed with great concern that cases of absenteeism and/or abscondment are on the increase in this ministry.
“I, therefore, would like to remind you all that absenteeism is an act of misconduct in terms of Regulation 1:201(1) of the Malawi Public Service Regulations and, as such, needs to be condoned at all times,” reads Magwira’s circular in part.
It says teachers who absent themselves from duty without permission from their controlling officers or without valid excuse will be punished according to provisions in the Government Teaching Service Commission Regulations (GTSCR) and Malawi Public Service Commission Regulations (MPSCR).
“…Regulations are clear on the measures that need to be taken against officers that involve themselves in such acts of misconduct as follows: deduct an equivalent salary from the officer’s salary for the number of days the officer has been absent from duty.
“This is in line with Regulation 34(2)(a) of the GTSCR and Regulation 39(2)(a) of the MPSCR. The salary may be deducted at source on the payroll,” reads the circular.
Magwira adds those who will not report for work for over five days will not get their salaries and face further disciplinary action.
“In case of abscondment where an officer absents himself or herself from duty without leave or just reason for a period exceeding five consecutive working days, immediately stop payment of salary to the officer concerned and report to the appropriate service commission [through the Ministry’s Headquarters] for further consideration and/or disciplinary action.
“The stoppage of salary is in line with Regulation 37(5) of GTSCR and 42(5) of the MPSCR,” he says in the circular.
The PS says an appropriate commission would decide on dismissing absconding officers depending on evidence and in line with GTSCR and MPSCR provisions.
“As is true with all acts of misconduct, absenteeism or abscondment, cases need to be thoroughly investigated, records need to be created and maintained properly, for example, indicating specific dates for absenteeism or abscondment and where possible, to get representations from the officers concerned,” says Magwira.
In an interview on Wednesday, Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe said in the interest of fairness, government should extend the punishment to all civil servants, including principal secretaries and department directors.
“There are sensitivities attached to that circular because it is only looking at lower ranks when we know that senior officers in government report to work for only two or three days per week. Those officers should be subjected to the same system,” said Kondowe who, however, commended the intentions behind the circular.
TUM general secretary Dennis Kalekeni said there is need for fairness when enforcing the directive.
“Every job has laid-down principles and guidelines. This is what is laid down in the teaching regulations and what we are supposed to be following looking at the high level of absenteeism.
“However, the ministry may not have the capacity to implement this considering that salaries are paid through banks from the ministry headquarters and mistakes can occur along the way because the process is too long,” said Kalekeni.
He also said some head teachers can abuse the directive to punish teachers they hate.
Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology Chikumbutso Hiwa on Tuesday referred Weekend Nation to Magwira to comment on the concerns over the circular. Magwira did not answer his phone on Friday.
Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) public relations officer Arthur Chipenda said there is nothing wrong with the circular because all controlling officers are expected to ensure discipline among their staff.
“This is not discrimination against teachers because there are efforts being made to ensure discipline is restored within the civil service across the board,” said Chipenda.
He said government has sufficient systems to ensure that no innocent civil servant is victimised by the salary deductions.