At least 50 diplomats did not receive their December salary for not presenting their national identity (ID) cards, a decision the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD) says is non-negotiable.
But a labour law expert has faulted the procedure as lacking legal basis, saying it would only make sense if such an arrangement was stipulated in the contract or was part of employment requirements.
DHRMD has removed, from the payroll, all public servants without national IDs in a move aimed at flushing out ghost workers from the system.
As of December, the department had removed from the payroll thousands of employees, including teachers, for lack of IDs.
While affected diplomats find the arrangement unfair, the Principal Secretary (PS) responsible for DHRMD Hillary Chimota insisted that only civil servants with national IDs will be maintained on the payroll. He said the diplomats, like other public servants, were given ample time to register; hence, any complaint against the decision is unjustifiable.
According to a well-placed source in government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is currently facilitating the travel of the affected diplomats back home for registration.
“Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached NRB [National Registration Bureau] that it should help to register 52 plus diplomats who have been removed from payroll for lack of national IDs. Arrangements are being made to have all the concerned diplomats come back home for registration as soon as possible, so that they can have the IDs and be reinstated on the payroll,” said the official who refused to be named.
In a written response NRB spokesperson Norman Fulatira could not confirm if, indeed, the bureau was contacted for assistance, but referred Nation on Sunday to Foreign Affairs for confirmation. Fulatira, however, indicated that if the diplomats seek their service, they are ready to assist accordingly.
“However, NRB will require them to travel back home for the exercise because currently registration has not been rolled out to foreign missions,” he said.
Fulatira also said there are plans to roll out registration in some selected foreign missions in the near future, but urged Malawians living outside the country to take advantage of their trips home to register.
Some diplomats argue that they had not registered largely due to cost implications of travelling to Malawi.
“Where do you get the money to fly back home just for an ID? With a family, who can afford to pay school fees and go for a holiday in Malawi? The ID is important, yes, but maybe we needed to be registered right here,” said one diplomat.
Another retorted: “Why all this fuss about national IDs? We were employed through the be removed from the payroll just because we do not have an ID. I find it unlawful”.right procedures and we cannot
But in a telephone interview, Chimota said the diplomats had all the time to register; hence, DHRMD’s decision to remove them from the payroll was non-negotiable. He said the department communicated to Foreign Affairs in September 2018, to have diplomats registered.
Chimota does not think logistics are a plausible excuse.
“Are you sure the diplomats do not come for holiday? If they were serious, they could have taken advantage of those trips to register. It is about mentality, but we think each and every civil servant needs an ID for us to flush out ghost workers,” he said.
In a written response PS for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ben Botolo confirmed that some diplomats were indeed affected, but they are yet to establish the number.
While indicating that they are discussing with NRB, Botolo agreed with Chimota that diplomats should have taken advantage of their holiday trips to register.
Botolo said there were two categories of affected diplomats as some have IDs which are yet to be linked to the payment system while others do not have the IDs at all.
“We warned them of impending developments of eliminating ghost employees where employment number has to be linked to ID number. Some of the diplomats have overstayed in embassies, IDs were introduced four years ago, by now everyone should have one,” he said.
Botolo was non-committal on whether government will facilitate the travel of the diplomats to Malawi for registration, though our source indicated that this was the most likely option “considering that these people need a salary to survive”.
Labour law expert Mauya Msuku has faulted the arrangement, saying it is not legally justified. He argued that, after all, the affected people were employed without a national ID and the employer was satisfied of their nationality.
According to Mauya, if the issue of national ID was not required during employment, it would be a breach of contract to deny someone a salary on the basis of the same. He said the intention to have every public servant have an ID is a good one, but the approach is wrong.
“Unless there are more compelling reasons; otherwise, I do not see any logic to deny people their salary for lack of a national ID,” he said.
Teachers Union of Malawi has since threatened to go on strike after thousands of teachers were removed off the payroll due to the same issue.
So far, the national ID has become the most preferred official identification document, with banks and other institutions demanding more of the ID over other documents such as passport and driver’s licence.