Sawerengera and 8 others risk being declared persona non grata in US as court rebuffs their application for judicial review

Malawi’s ambassador to the United States of America (USA), Edward Sawerengera, and eight others, risk being stripped their diplomatic statuses following the decision by the High Court in Lilongwe to dismiss their application for permission to commence judicial review proceedings against government’s decision to recall them from their diplomatic posts.

Earlier, the court granted them temporary relief through an order of stay they obtained against the government’s decision to recall “without proper repatriation of their personal effects” pending a hearing and determination on the matter.

Sawerengera: Rebuffed by court

Sawerengera and his workmates were arguing that, according to the terms of their contract, there is an obligation on the part of the Malawi Government to bear repatriation costs for recalled diplomats.

The logistics of moving the diplomats from their duty stations back to Malawi, involves proper co-ordination with shippers of the property of the diplomats so that their travel should properly coincide with the movement of their property.

As such, the personal effects of recalled diplomats is directly loaded in shipping containers and taken to booked vessels in readiness for shipment to Malawi.

However, the Malawi Government – through the Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation –requested the claimants on different occasions to release their personal effects to a shipping company, Universal Freight Solutions, for storage in a warehouse as they arrange for the shipment of the same to Malawi.

Sawerengera and his friends were not comfortable with this arrangement, fearing their personal effects might be destroyed or get lost.

In his 11-paged ruling, High Court Judge Simeon Mdeza said the claimants cited instances of similar occurrences in the case of people like Malawi’s former ambassador to Egypt Hon. Jafali Mussa and Ms. Jane Assani, a diplomat to New York, who lost all their property despite it being handed over to shippers, because of improper handling. The said diplomats sued the Malawi Government for millions of kwachas.

“The Claimants and the Defendant do not seem to reach a compromise on this standoff. The Defendant wrote the Claimants stating to them in no uncertain terms that they were supposed to leave their duty stations by 31st December 2021, failing which they would not be provided any financial assistance at all by the Malawi Government including money for rent and Foreign Service Allowances.

“The Defendant has also indicated that if the Claimants do not leave by that date, then the Malawi Government would not be responsible for the payments for the renewal of their air tickets as well,” reads the ruling in part.

In their application, Sawerengera and his friends wanted that, if granted permission to commence judicial review, the court should declare that the impugned decisions of the Malawi Government are and unreasonable in the Wednesbury sense and that the said decisions were made in bad faith and unconstitutional.

“The claimants, in their application, have argued that the Respondent is shamelessly acting in utter abuse of power without listening to the plea of the Applicants, and therefore in blatant disregard for their right to property and to have a livelihood once they get back to Malawi without their property.

“This is notwithstanding the fact that their contracts and the MPSR entitles them to 4 days in a hotel in the United States after sending their property to a shipper, and to seven days in a hotel in Malawi as they await the arrival of their property so that they can then find a house and take their property thereto in order to have a bearable and dignified livelihood,” said Mdeza.

But delivering his ruling, Mdeza refused to grant the claimant permission to commence judicial review.

“Consequently, the prayer for stay of the implementation of the Defendants’ decision must fail,” he said.

Meanwhile, unverified reports indicate that the Malawi Government has written the US Government notifying it about its intention to strip Sawerengera and his workmates their diplomatic statuses.

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