Warders under the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) have vowed to continue with the nationwide sit-in that started on Friday to force authorities to make grade adjustments as has been the case with their counterparts in the Malawi Police Service and Department of Immigration in the 2017/18 fiscal year.
However, a memo that The Daily Times has seen, signed by Commissioner of Prisons, compels the warders to return to normal duties with immediate effect as management is sorting out their issue.
“In view of the foregoing, you are strongly warned that failure to adhere to this directive is tantamount to mutiny and management will not hesitate to immediately take necessary action as stipulated in section 58 of the Prison Act. In light of this, all officers not on duty must desist from loitering around prison premises,” reads the memo released Sunday.
But warders at Zomba Central Prison have threatened to release prisoners if their demands are not met by close of business today.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the warders accused government of sidelining prisons as one of the security departments in the country.
“The minister is not handling the issue professionally. We are equally a security department so why should our colleagues receive a pay increase and not us. This strike will go on until we see a similar circular of salary increase. Otherwise, we work for the betterment of the country just like our counterparts and we demand equal treatment,” he said.
When we visited Chichiri Prison yesterday, we found tree branches that blocked the main entrance to the prison campus.
The warders were seen camping at a shelter outside the prison gate, in what seemed to be a meeting.
Warders at Maula Prison in Lilongwe and Mzuzu Prison concurred with their counterparts, threatening to lock up the inmates the whole day today.
“The strike is going on until the minister decides to pay attention to our grievances. As it is, visitors are not allowed to come and see or give their relations food.
The government should know they are punishing innocent people. Tomorrow we will not open the cells simply because we are not working,” said a warder at Maula Prison.
Commenting on the matter, Minister of Home Affairs, Grace Chiuma, who was stopped from entering Maula Prison on Friday, said government is trying to work on their grievances and was quick to describe the sit-in as unfortunate.
“I had a meeting with the Commissioner of Prisons and we discussed that the warders should go back to work. Within the week, we will get back to them with solutions. It is very unfortunate that a department that instills discipline is on the forefront of such a behavior. We are following the right procedures. Issues of money cannot happen within a blink of an eye,” she said.
Meanwhile, Executive Director for Centre for Human Rights Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), Victor Mhango, has condemned the sit-in, saying government could be sued at a later stage for what he described as violation of human rights.