Senior management at Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM), Malawi’s leading family planning service provider, is battling allegations of racial prejudice against Malawian staff.
Investigations into the allegations of racial prejudice at BLM show how country director Linda Edwards two months ago allegedly used unconventional methods to find fault with local staff and sacked or suspended some.
Four members of staff: national sales and marketing officer Dennis Chimenya, finance manager Ruth Jana, accounts assistant Lucia Julius and one Gift Jere were fired last month over their private e-mail and Skype conversations.
Edwards went on to recruit fellow nationals without work permits to replace some of the sacked staff, a move that last week attracted Immigration officials to BLM.
The four have since taken management to court demanding damages.
Noel Chalamanda, their lawyer, on Tuesday this week confirmed that he has a case against BLM management in the High Court where he is asking for damages.
He also confirmed that he has another case in the Industrial Relations Court for unfair and unlawful termination of his clients’ employment.
“Our clients were fired on evidence that was illicitly obtained when one day BLM management told everyone not to come to work and asked them to leave their laptop computers so that a new network could be installed. Instead, they went on to obtain passwords and checked e-mails and Skype conversations which they used to fire some and suspend others,” Chalamanda said.
“This is a breach of privacy laws. Whether the information they found in those private mails was true or false, it is unlawful and we are asking the High Court to award them damages,” he said.
Chimenya was replaced by Janet Clark, a British national, whereas Jana’s job was taken over by Fluer Dewer from New Zealand.
The two were last Friday detained by Immigration officials after being tipped off that they were working without proper permits.
Immigration deputy public relations officer Martin Nkongolo said in an interview that they will answer charges of working without a permit and face either deportation or imprisonment.
Edwards took over from Walker Jiyani. Her arrival, according to insiders, has affected work relations and destroyed team work at the workplace.
BLM employs about 500 people providing healthcare services to millions nationwide. The NGO gets most of its funding from the British and Norwegian governments to roll out their programmes.
British Department for International Development (DfID), one of the major donors, have since confirmed that they are aware of what is happening at BLM.
“Our official response is DfID is aware, but has no comment as this is an internal BLM issue,” said programme manager Andrew Massa in an e-mailed response in September this year when Weekend Nation started investigating allegations of racism and alleged ill treatment of staff.
Over the last three weeks, Weekend Nation has been engaged in correspondence with Edwards to find out why management fired four senior members based on their Skype conversations.
“Banja La Mtsogolo [BLM] has recently made staff changes in our support offices, as part of a series of initiatives undertaken after an independent audit.
“The changes are part of an ongoing process of improvement and quality assurance in our programmes and as such, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on the rationale for change,” she said in one of her e-mailed response.
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