Malawi evicts UN local staff from houses

  • [highlight style=’pear-green’] Expatriates to stay on … [/highlight]

Malawi has ordered local staff for the United Nations (UN) agencies in the country to vacate from government houses with immediate effect so that they can  be occupied by senior government officials, but in a dramatic twist of turn, all UN foreign contingents occupying the houses will stay on, Nyasa Times can reveal.

The development, however, has sparked anger and strife among the local UN staff and has vowed to fight against the eviction order with others taking a step further and are prepared to take the government to the cleaners for a judicial redress claiming the government wants to allocate the houses to its political faithful so they can sell to each other at give-away prices as was the case with the previous DPP led government.

What is the rationale of chasing us (the local staff) from the UN-funded government houses while others (the expatriates) have been told to stay on?  Why must we be segregated by our own government in our own country? he queried.

Quent Kalichero: Ministry sent out the eviction orders

Quent Kalichero: Ministry sent out the eviction orders

“We know why they are doing this; they want to sell the houses to themselves at cheap prices. We will not sit with folded arms and watch that happen. We will fight for justice, said the concerned UN local staff facing eviction,” said the visibly angry victim of the eviction.

He added: “Our understanding is that the UN family built these houses for its staff and that includes both foreign and local. The UN did keep apart the foreign and the local staff and that is why those who qualified for accommodation houses were allocated to them.”

He questioned the underlying principle of the government’s motive to evict only Malawians nationals from the houses saying it does not adding up as to why a government have chosen to maltreat its own people while giving preferential treatment to foreigners working for the same organisation who will not be affected by the order.

Government through Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry last month issued a 30 day ultimatum dated 16th December addressed to UN Resident Coordinator, which Nyasa Times has sourced a copy, and was served to the ‘evictees’ on Christmas Eve, December 24th 2014, asking all UN Malawi local staff to evacuate from the government houses by 31st January, 2014 which were funded by the UN, to look accommodation for accommodation elsewhere.

But government has since extended the validity of the eviction order date for another 30 days asking the local UN staff up to February 28th 2014.

“The Ministry of Foreign affairs and International Cooperation wishes to inform the esteemed office that Government has extended lease termination for all affected UN Local Tenants from one calendar month to two calendar months. The notice of termination shall therefore be effective from 1st January 2014 and shall expire on 28 Feb 2014. All tenants in the affected houses are expected to vacate the houses by 28 Feb 2014,” reads in part the letter.

“The Ministry has further honour to inform the esteemed office that Govt is committed to the provision of housing to UNDP internationally recruited staff and shall not terminate leases for the tenants in the remaining 34 units that are available under the Malawi Govt/ UNDP Agreement,” further reads the letter.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International corporation spokesperson Quent Kalichero confirmed that her Ministry sent out the eviction orders but said they were only acting on behalf of Ministry of Lands as the case involved an international organisation.

Said Kalichero: “Ministry of Lands is better placed to comment on the matter as the custodian of the (government) property. Foreign Affairs, if anything, could only come in because the body involved is foreign and ministry departments go through us when communicating with international bodies/organizations, diplomatic missions and other governments.”

Kalichero said the houses being repossessed by  government are only those that are being occupied by the local staff; just to be in line with the contract in place.

“UNDP will still keep some units, also as stipulated in the contract. As to the question of the nitty gritties of who has or not occupied the houses after repossession that falls within the jurisdiction of Min of Lands,” said Kalichero

But a senior official from Ministry of Lands speaking on anonymity for fear of reprisals told Nyasa Times in a telephone interview that the issue of the houses in question are being handled by the Foreign Affairs ministry but   her understanding is that the houses are being possessed to be allocated to senior government officials who include Principal Secretaries (PS) Doctors and other government senior officials such as police officers who have no accommodation.

Asked why the eviction is only for the local staff and not the expatriates who get the official said that is facing the eviction, the official simply said that that is what is stipulated in the contract.

“The issue is not being handled by the Ministry of Lands so it would be difficult for me to know what is going on, maybe the OPC and Foreign affairs would have the answers,” said Kalichero she said.

‘Political ploy’ 

Impeccable sources in government confided in Nyasa Times that that the order to repossess the government UN-funded houses from the UN local staff came from Office of the President (OPC) a move widely seen as a political ploy by regime to share the houses among the ruling PP top politburo.”

“The order to evict Malawians working for various UN agencies and have the houses repossessed came direct from OPC so that they can share among themselves the houses as was the case with the previous government, where senior politicians purchased houses at a cut-price. But this is very sad that Malawians are being treated in such a way in their own country, favouring the foreign contingent who gets   an average of $3,000 in rental subsidy,” said the source.

 

OPC’s publicist Arthur Chipenda was not readily available for comment.

Investigations carried out by Nyasa Times indicate that there are 51 houses in total which were built by the UN and only 15 of the houses are currently occupied by local Malawians working for various UN agencies and according to the UN the houses are only given to those staff members who desperately need accommodation.

Nyasa Times investigations also reveal that one of the UN houses that was previously occupied by a local Malawi staff has since been allocated to former MRA Director General Mpheta James Phiri who coincidentally is married to President Joyce Banda’s sister.

Mpheta – James Phiri who’s a brother in-law to President Joyce Banda is occupying a UN-funded government house Number Area 10/49 in the capital Lilongwe.

One of the people facing eviction is suffering from cancer and is on chemotherapy in South Africa while the another staff was only given a house after his house was razed down by a vicious fire.

Nyasa Times understand that in a meeting held in September 2011, between UNDP ‘s  Priscilla Chimwele and the then PS for Lands a Mrs Luhanga, Ministry of Lands had committed and promised to ensuring that all UN staff access housing, especially the UN houses.

“We know this is a strategic move by the government as we approach elections for senior govt officials to sell each other these houses. is it a mere coincidence therefore that one of the first house to be vacated has been allocated to the president’s sister and her husband?“ said

The houses all of them in the low density locations such as Area 10 and 12 were built with a loan to the tune of $160,000 from the UN to Malawi government and re. Rentals go to government but maintenance is done by the UN.

Human Rights campaigner and lawyer Habiba Osman expressed dismay at the development saying it is ‘unfair and uncalled for’ for government to discriminate against its own citizens and decried the development as gross human rights abuse with impunity.

“I would argue that a Government that have the welfare of its citizens at heart would not be discriminatory of its own people. That is s selfish. We have been through the house scandal we don’t need to repeat the same,“ said the activist.

Osman said that Lilongwe is a hub of the capital of Malawi, and if such a measure is to be taken, then the government must not discriminate the locals but treat all UN staff equally, local or foreign.

“If the intention is not to discriminate then it must be applied across the board. What are they trying to say? Locals have no right to housing? In that case, Government must find houses for the local staff. Otherwise, this is unfair and simply victimization of Malawians, said the outspoken Osman.

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