Isabel Tekwatekwa graduated from the Kamuzu College of Nursing in September 2018 and collected her degree of Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery at a colorful ceremony in February 2019. In July 2020, she participated in a written interview – the government of Malawi, the Ministry of Health to be specific – wanted to hire nurses.
In March this year, it turned out she was one of the successful candidates – but nobody informed her. On the application letter and also on her CV, she had left all the details: her email address, the postal address care of her husband at the Dwangwa Sugar Corporation, two phone numbers of her own and one phone number of the next of kin. The hiring office at the Ministry of Health called everyone else except her and another nurse, who is no longer pursuing the matter as she is already employed elsewhere.
How, then, did she know she had been successful? A friend of hers – at the Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH), to which she had been posted, on paper – saw her name. Among the headcount of nurses working for the hospital her name was there, although she never, at any point, signed the GP1 form, which civil servants sign at the time they are hired.
Alarmed, she travelled all the way from Dwangwa to Lilongwe to follow up the matter. She tells me she had even checked the spam box of her email, to see whether any email may have strayed there, but there was none. In addition, the ministry did not publish the names of successful candidates in the newspapers, or even have them announced on the radio – they simply decided to call the successful candidates one by one and decided to omit Isabel and another.
At KCH she went straight to the Human Resource Office. The office explained to her that it was not the one that had been responsible for distributing offer letters to successful candidates. Coincidentally, some HR officials from the ministry were at KCH at the time, and Isabel brought the matter to their attention. They told her, “Sorry, your offer was valid for 14 days. Your colleagues reported for duty in March. Your offer has expired. Even if we were to stretch it to the 90 days (usual grace period for accepting a government employment offer), those 90 days have also expired. Sorry, there is nothing we can do. Give us your name and number, so we can invite you to another interview in July.”
“But why did you not exhaust all means to reach out to me?” asked Isabel.
“Sorry, there is nothing we can do. Just accept our advice that you should attend interviews in July.”
In the afternoon of that same day, Isabel went to the Ministry of Health. Someone there gave her the number of the official responsible for the headcount. After explaining the matter to him, he also said there was nothing that could be done as the offer expired.
Isabel did not stop there. She went to the Chief Human Resource Officer of the ministry. The Chief said that the only thing that could come out of her complaint is a lesson learnt that in future they should exhaust all means of reaching out to successful candidates. As for her specific situation, nothing could be done. “On our part, once the 14 days have passed,” said the Chief, “we assume that every candidate has been informed, and has made a choice either to take up the offer or not.”
“Assume?” asked Isabel. “Even when you know very well that you haven’t reached out to all of them?”
“Sorry,” said the Chief. “There is nothing we can do about your situation. The offer period has expired.”
The following day Isabel went to the Health Service Commission. The commissioners were not there, but she met some ladies who work there. The ladies explained to her that the Commission’s role stops at conducting the interviews. It is not involved in the recruitment process. “There is nothing we can do,” they said.
That, friends, is the injustice Ms Isabel Tekwatekwa has suffered. She passed the interviews, but the hiring office at the Ministry of Health decided not to reach out to her to inform her she had passed. Now they are saying they cannot recruit her because the period for recruiting her has expired. Just like that.
Just like that.