Malawi Labour Minister Eunice Makangala, came under pressure in Parliament Tuesday over the controversial deal Malawi has signed with South Korea to send at least 100,000 Malawian young men and women to work in the Korean peninsula.
Some opposition parliamentarians dubbed the exercise “human trafficking” while others called it a “joke”, arguing that the programme did not make sense when Malawi is complaining about brain drain.
“Mr. Speaker, Sir, we always cry about brain drain and encourage Malawians in the diaspora to come back home and yet here we are exporting the cream of our labour force abroad. It doesn’t make sense at all,” said opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Stevyn Kamwendo.
Main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesman on finance in Parliament, Joseph Njobvuyalema, agreed with Kamwendo, arguing that it was laughable that when Malawi is busy exporting labour, foreigners continue to flock to Malawi to take plum jobs.
“When human capital is sent abroad it is not Malawian tax base which will grow,” he said.
But minister Makangala defended government’s deal with South Korea, saying there is a lot of unemployment in Malawi.
“There is no cause for concern,” she said.
Makangala said all procedures were followed in finalising the deal.
“It should therefore be made clear that this is far from human trafficking, this – Mr. Speaker, Sir, is a genuine and transparent exercise,” she said.
Youth Minister Enoch Chakufwa Chihana concurred with his cabinet colleague, saying MPs must be realistic and not just attack the programme with a political mindset.
“Most of our youths are just sitting idle in villages and towns, they are not working, they are not in school, this is an opportunity for them to be productive,” he said.
According to Makangala, at least 15,000 people applied to be considered for the programme but just over 300 will leave “very soon” for South Korea as the first batch.
“Each lot will be in South Korea for four years and 10 months,” she said.
But the Labour Minister refused to disclose how much the Malawians will be getting per month. Other government sources, however, put the figure in the region of US$ 1,000 per month, quite substantial in a country where most civil servants and other workers earn less than US$ 100 a month.
Makangala nonetheless said half of the salaries the Malawians will be earning in South Korea will be sent back to Malawi for government to keep for them. The worker will be receiving half of the remaining half while a bank in Seoul will be retaining the other half.
“They will be getting free food and accommodation. We want them to accumulate enough savings so that at the end of their tour of duty they would have accumulated enough to invest in something profitable in Malawi,” she said.
The scheme has been met with scepticism with some analysts calling it “modern day slavery”. Others cite unsavoury reports that expose how immigrant workers are mistreated, underpaid, even raped in the Asian country.
An Amnesty International report, published on 22 May, documents what it called “a history of abuses” migrant workers have to endure.