Prominent legal scholar Mwiza Nkhata has faulted Malawi Government’s decision to seal Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) offices nationwide, saying the decision has no legal basis.
Uniformed police officers on Tuesday descended on ACB offices in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Lexten Kachama said yesterday the action is aimed at protecting the structure, property and those that are willing to work during the strike.
Said Kachama: “Whenever there is a strike, the police provide security because of the unpredictability of the strike action. You can’t be sure about what one [staff member] will be doing during strike and it is necessary to take precautionary measures.”
But Nkhata, who is the dean of law at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, dismissed the police action as lacking legal basis.
He said: “I am failing to find legal basis for the action. Even if they question the legality of the strike, they cannot seal offices because it is a labour issue.”
Nkhata also dismissed claims that the idea is to protect property, wondering whether government has information that files or other property are being destroyed during the strike.
He warned government that the strike is a labour issue and its action will solve nothing.
When The Nation crew visited the bureau’s headquarters at City Centre in Lilongwe, the sight resembled a crime scene as police officers swarmed the bureau’s office, which they share with the World Bank country office.
Staff interviewed on site said the officers arrived at around 7.30am, as the bureau employees assembled back at the office, with instructions for them to pack all personal effects and leave the building. They said they were not told when to return.
ACB deputy director-general Reynack Matemba confirmed the closures, saying government informed management of the decision a day before the move.
Said Matemba: “We were informed, but I would not say we were consulted. The Chief Secretary called me to advise us of the decision and since we are still working and coordinating issues of the strike, we were informed we will continue to have access to the offices and I am sure we will have access to the offices.”
Chief Secretary to the Government George Mkondiwa also confirmed and justified the decision to seal off the offices in an interview, saying the move was aimed at protecting files and other government property amid the chaos raised by the strike.
But Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace Programme (CCJP) national coordinator Chris Chisoni, while appreciating government’s reasoning behind the sealing off of the offices, said Capital Hill should follow the move with actions that will bring the standoff to an end.
ACB staff want 70 percent salary increase and have so far rejected an offer of 10 percent.
Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe described the strike action as unfortunate, saying ACB staff are among the highest paid public servants.