Prisons defuse staff protests

Malawi Prisons Service management yesterday moved swiftly to suppress a planned junior staff strike over promotions that have eluded them, but have been extended to 7 000 of their colleagues in Malawi Police Service (MPS).

In a bid to defuse the tension that engulfed the Prisons service, authorities summoned all officers to a  parade yesterday morning, was designed to act as a roll-call for the staff.

Prisons chief: Wandika Phiri

Read the written commission to the parade: “Following the memo from the Chief Commissioner of Prisons, the officer-in-charge summons all prison officers and men under his command to attend a ‘must master parade’ scheduled for April 23 2019 at 10AM…”

The parade was meant to communicate results of discussions Chief Commissioner of Prisons Grace Wandika Phiri had with government officials on Monday this week.

The communication came against a background of a warning from Prisons Commissioner (Operations) Yafet Chimodzi on Monday that by holding a strike, the officers risked violating the law which requires them not to rise against management.

However, despite the warning, prison warders at Chichiri and Kasungu prisons confided that plans for the nationwide sit-in were at advanced stage because management had failed to convince them.

But Prisons spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba yesterday insisted the strike will not proceed following “fruitful discussions management had with junior staff” at Zomba Central Prison.

He said: “From the look of things, the issue is receiving due attention and management is convinced that the matter will be addressed. If you visit Zomba Prison you will find the situation is quiet and normal.”

On why the warders have not been considered for promotions, Shaba said the Prisons management has been undertaking a functional review exercise that would see the department creating positions to which officers should be promoted to.

The recent promotion of 7 000 police officers, which the country’s Vice-President and UTM Party presidential candidate Saulos Chilima queried and described as a May 21 Tripartite Elections campaign gimmick, sparked the wrath of prison warders who felt sidelined.

A leaked junior prison officers WhatsApp conversation painted a picture that some employees in the Prisons Department have worked over 15 years without being promoted.

Human rights activist Victor Mhango, who is executive director of Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), said it was ironical that government does not seem to learn from past cases when prison warders staged similar strikes for being sidelined on other issues.

In 2017, warders staged a nationwide protest after noticing that government had created a huge disparity in salary increment between security institutions under the same Ministry of Homeland Security.

Mhango feared a strike by prison warders will negatively affect delivery of justice as prisoners will not be able to access justice in courts and other social services such as education and visitations.

Further, he warned that mass promotions also have implications on the wage bill which has previously been an issue of concern with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In an earlier interview, the police said the recent promotions were a reward to officers for reducing crime.

The police promotions came on the heels of similar mass promotions in Ministry of Education, Science and Technology earlier this month where 20 000 teachers, including retired and the dead, made the list.

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