Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation George Chaponda says Malawi has recalled 82 diplomats from its foreign missions and plans to reduce the number further by June next year.
Unveiling reforms in the ministry, Chaponda also said government will no longer be responsible for payment of house rentals and school fees for the diplomats abroad.
Following the recall, government says it has saved K3.1 billion on salaries and benefits alone in 2015/16 and K2.2 billion in rentals for houses of diplomats and school fees for their children, according to the minister.
He said a further K2.3 billion in salaries and
will be saved in the 2016/17 financial year starting on July 1. benefits, rentals and school fees
The savings come at a time when the ministry is expected to enjoy a K1.9 billion increase from the 2015/16 Mid-year Budget Review which Chaponda has defended that it came about due to the kwacha fluctuation against the dollar since June last year.
Government has since reduced the number of diplomats in established positions from 234 to 152 this year. The number is expected to reach 126 by next year. On the other hand, the number of local staff in the foreign mission has gone down from 217 to 184.
The minister said where, for example, there is a press attaché and a tourism attaché, one officer will go and his/her assignments will be taken over by the other.
Chaponda has described the process as downsizing and rationalising diplomatic and local staff in Malawi’s missions abroad.
He said the process of downsizing has been professionally handled after assessing the personnel needs against the government’s strategic foreign interests.
Said Chaponda: “Based on this analysis, where numbers and competencies are not matching with the strategic interests of the country, actions are being taken.
“The ultimate aim of these reforms is to make Malawi missions more cost-effective, lean and efficient. But this does not mean the government has no money to pay embassies.”
The development means over 100 Malawians from foreign missions will be absorbed into the civil service back home on their return.
However, Chaponda said this was normal and that it would not jeopardise the Public Service Reform Commission plans to trim the civil service.
As part of the rationalisation process, government has rolled out a performance appraisal system after which apart from the three-year tenure for diplomats, the appraisals would be used to recommend a recall or extension of tenure of office.
“Promotions and further trainings and other rewards and sanctions have also been developed to be used for each level of performance,” Chaponda said.
As part of the reforms, the foreign missions will be put to use, developing strategic plans outlining outcomes and objectives on which their performance will be assessed apart from developing service charters on what stakeholders should expect.
But while the government is trimming personnel in some missions, it has established a mission in Geneva, Switzerland, to strengthen ties with that country and United Nations agencies operating from there. Malawi has also opened a point of representation in Tete, Mozambique where trade and investment opportunities have opened.
In recent years, the government has closed down embassies in Canada, Namibia, France and Kenya. However, the mission in Nairobi was reopened in 2014.
Malawi has 19 foreign missions, with eight in Africa, four in Europe, a couple in Asia, United States of America (USA) in addition to the United Nations mission in New York. n