The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given seven diplomats who were expelled from South Africa for allegedly being embroiled in rackets of illegal sale of duty-free alcohol 10 days to explain their cases.
In an interview on Tuesday, the ministry’s spokesperson Rejoice Shumba said they have written the expelled diplomats asking them to explain what happened within 10 days adding that once they have responded, the ministry will summon them to a disciplinary hearing.
Last month, the South African government declared the seven diplomats at the Malawi High Commission in Pretoria, including acting High Commissioner Gloria Bamusi, persona non grata—a legal term for expulsion of unwanted person by a host nation.
The seven arrived in the country on June 14 2021, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and President Lazarus Chakwera issuing apologies to Pretoria over the matter.
While Chakwera described the diplomats’ behaviour as “unfortunate, despicable and unprofessional”, the ministry has said it cannot punish them based on an investigation carried out by the South African Government.
However, Shumba said the diplomats have been told to stay home until their issues are resolved.
She said: “The South African government did not explain in detail what happened. This is why we need to carry out our own investigation and, if found guilty, we can take disciplinary action.”
Shumba, who could not be drawn to disclose when the 10-day ultimatum expires, said they are carrying out the enquiry in coordination with the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD).
“Some of the diplomats that were expelled do not belong to our ministry, but to other government ministries, departments and agencies. This is why we are working with the DHRMD, because they handle all issues to do with human resource within the civil service,” she explained.
The South African Government also expelled diplomats from Ghana, Rwanda, Burundi and Lesotho for the same misconduct. Prior to their expulsions, the South African Revenue Service (Sars) uncovered a tax-dodging racket in which the diplomats would buy large volumes of alcohol from duty-free retailers, and then sell it locally.
According to Sars, the scheme cheated the tax collector of an estimated R100 million (around K5.5 billion) a month, South Africa online publication, News24 reported.
Meanwhile, governance and labour expert Robert Mkwezalamba, while welcoming the Ministry of Foreign Affairs investigation, has faulted government for condemning the expelled diplomats before establishing what happened.
In an interview on Wednesday, the former Malawi Congress of Trade Union general secretary described the ministry’s handling of the matter as unfair labour practice.
He said: “We really need to dig deep into this issue. It was unfair for government to quickly adopt South African Government’s stand and condemn the expelled envoys. We need to know what really happened.”
Mkwezalamba has also asked government to make public its findings so that “Malawians learn the truth, because the reasons might not be the tax evasion, but something different”.