- Detain 2 organisers, free them later
Heavily armed police yesterday disturbed the course of a meeting Civil Service Trade Union (CSTU) organised at Capital Hill to solicit views from its members on the protest to the 10 percent pay hike.
The police mounted a checkpoint at the entrance and asked questions to all getting into Capital Hill, the seat of government in Lilongwe, where CSTU mobilised its membership for the consultation meeting.
In the course of the run-up to the meeting, police arrested two civil servants—Jones Kuntumanji and his colleague identified as Jonas Savimbi—who were scheduled to mobilise their colleagues at Capital Hill to attend the meeting.
The duo was arrested by at least 20 police officers before they could even start to call out people to the meeting.
In his address to civil servants gathered at the venue near the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development car park, CSTU general secretary Madalitso Njolomole said the intimidation by police was excessive.
He said: “What we are doing here is not for us only, but for the benefit of all civil servants and all workers in the public service, including the police officers themselves.”
The meeting, initially scheduled to start at 10am, was delayed by almost an hour because the detention of the two prompted the CSTU leadership to seek an emergency meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara.
It was after the CSTU leadership emerged from that meeting that they briefed their membership about the arrest of the two. In reaction, the members vowed not to move an inch from the meeting venue until their two colleagues were freed.
“We won’t leave until they are released. Police have detained Savimbi and Kuntumanji. We would like to know where they are,” said one of the people from the crowd who, however, said was not free to have his name quoted in the media.
This attracted an hour of interrogation through phones between the CSTU president Servace Sakala and police to track the detained officials who at first were believed to have been kept at Area 18 Police (Lingadzi Police Station), but later were discovered to have been kept by the police who heavily guarded the Capital Hill.
Savimbi told The Nation that the police picked them as they were about to make announcements of the meeting with a megaphone.
In an interview later, Malawi Police Service national spokesperson James Kadadzera said he was yet to be officially communicated on the issue.
CSTU called the meeting to discuss its stand on the 10 percent salary increment Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe announced in the proposed 2017/18 National Budget.
In his address, the CSTU president said the union does not agree with the increase which the minister said would be given on merit.
The CSTU leadership is expected to meet the Government Negotiating Team on Thursday to find out the government stand.
After a consensus, the gathering agreed that if government fails to honour their request by Friday, there is a possibility of going on strike from next Monday.
The civil servants’ push for higher pay rise comes against the background of a warning by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the wage bill while strengthening tax compliance to mobilise enough resources in line with the country’s goals.
Following a 15 percent pay hike for the public sector last July, the public sector wage bill rose by K22 billion to K264 billion which, according to Treasury, was 23.3 percent of total expenditure in the K1.3 trillion 2016/17 National Budget.