Three CEAR staff arrested on trumped up charges

Three members of staff at Central East African Railways (CEAR) were sent on suspension following their arrest on trumped up charges — whose court case was eventually withdrawn at the instructions of the company’s top management that initiated the arrest.

A petition by the staff, which Nyasa Times has seen, has since been sent to Ministry of Labour accusing CEAR of serious abuse of work ethics that is happening at the company, which was formerly owned by the government as Malawi Railways.

A CEAR locomotive

The letter to the Ministry of Labour indicates that one of the employees who was arrested, Bento Maonga was rushing to the bank on 26th of April trying to beat closing time.

But as he was passing the reception area, is it reported that a G4S security officer, acting as receptionist, asked Maonga to deliver three letters to management but Maonga excused himself and asked if the receptionist could delegate that duty to another employee, Magoya — who was close by.

It is being reported that Magoya did deliver the letters but the contents of the letter seemed to have displeased management, prompting them to accuse the deliverer of authoring the letters.

The police were called to interrogate him and at the insistence of management he was arrested — though he indicated that he didn’t write the letter but was only given to deliver by the G4S receptionist.

The complaint indicates that Magoya was taken to Limbe Police Station using CEAR transportation where he was put in a cell under charges of intimidation and later Maonga was also arrested.

On April 28, one other employee Yohane Banda, who was processing bail for Maonga, was informed by the G4S Security to report to Limbe Police and meet investigator identified as Munthali.

The prosecutor informed Banda that management was accusing him as being a major suspect but when questioned for a statement, Banda — who served as general secretary for Railway Workers Union until end February, 2021 — chose to remain silent and prosecutor Munthali arrested him as well and put him in cell.

Banda is said to have been denied use of his cellphone to inform his relatives as the police claimed that an order was given from management that he shouldn’t make calls as he had made an intimidation communication to his boss Rodrigo in a WhatsApp message he sent informing him that he had been arrested.

A court bail was given four days later on April 30 April only for CEAR management to slap each of the three with a 14-day suspension with a stiff condition that none of them should be seen in vicinity of any CEAR premises.

When the 14-day period elapsed, Maonga and Magoya went to resume work but after knocking off, the human resources department gave them an extension to their suspension from May 19 May-June 7 June 2021.

When they served the second suspension, the three employees returned to work but on June 16, the company issued them with disciplinary letters while the issue was pending a court of law process.

According to one of the employees, management is reported to have asked the police prosecutor to drop the charges and the court, whose case management never attended, discharged the three.

In all this, the G4S guard at the centre of it all is reported never to have been taken to task to find out how he got hold of the letters.

The CEAR staff, further reveals that there is “toxic working environment“ at CEAR which Yohane Banda, as general secretary for Railway Workers Union brought to the attention of the Labour Office in Blantyre some time back.

This is the reason the employees suspect management decided to also implicate Banda so that he too should be arrested.

During Banda’s tenure of office, one of the bosses, a Brazilian named Tiago was caught on camera breaking some of the company’s Golden Safety Rules but after his hearing, he was sent to Brazil for mental examination where it was evaluated that he was not mentally sound and the ruling for breaking the safety rules was overturned.

Most employees were not satisfied with this decision as most local employees — if they break the Golden Safety Rules — are fired but no mental examinations are offered.

The staff are now fearing reprisals following the whole episode, thus their decision to report to the Ministry of Labour for remedy.

In its response to this, CEAR — through its Communication Analyst Wezzie Kalua, said the letter “contained serious and explicit death threats aimed at one of CEAR’s employees”.

When asked what evidence is there that Magoya did author the letters, Kalua said “management did not implicate any employee” adding that “CEAR performed its legal duty of informing the Malawi Police Service that an employee has received death threats and handed the letter over to the police”.

“The police made investigations and arrested those it decided were suspects. The Malawi Police Service after investigating the matter determined what offences to charge the suspects with.”

She said in suspending the staff and extending it when the period expired, the labour laws that were applied were from Section 56 of the Employment Act, which provides for suspension as a disciplinary action.

“CEAR’s disciplinary code also provides for suspension. Malawian case law is clear that employees can be suspended pending investigations. No one has been prejudiced or presumed guilty. CEAR has acted in accordance with the labour laws of Malawi,” she said.

Asked if the G4S receptionist was questioned where he got hold of the letters, Kalua said “this should be raised with Malawi Police Service who conducted investigations”.

“As observed, the receptionist is an employee of G4S, therefore CEAR is not in a position to take any internal action regarding him.”

She also said “CEAR management vehemently denies” the allegation that while they were incarcerated in police cell, the suspects were denied their right by CEAR management from making calls to their relations or lawyers, saying “CEAR management does not exercise any control over people who are in police custody”.

“CEAR does not control or manipulate police officers. As far as CEAR is concerned, the Malawi Police Service is an independent and professional body unless you can prove otherwise.”

Asked what post that the Brazilian Rodrigo holds, Kalua said his “post or nationality is not relevant. The issue at hand is that he is a CEAR employee who received death threats and the matter was reported to police.”

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