Tensions have for the past two weeks been rising at Malawi’s orthopaedic hospital, Beit Cure International, culminating in a sit-in last Tuesday by nurses who demanded to know why a restructuring exercise at the institution was targeting only local staff, Malawi News can reveal.

At the centre of the controversy is executive director, Stuart Palmer, who some members of staff accuse of favouring a Dutch expatriate Margree Maria Geerlje Schilt at the expense of local staff.

A highly-placed source confided in Malawi News that there has been a systematic campaign aimed at frustrating local workers, citing the hospital’s restructuring plans as a ploy to sideline Malawians.

The source said Schilt was a Scrub Technician who was not accepted to work at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) after it was felt that she was “not fit.” It was a surprise, according to the source, how she found herself at Beit Cure Hospital.

The source claimed that the Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi also turned her application for registration down, alleging that local workers were surprised to learn that she had finally been registered by the Medical Council of Malawi (MCM).

Our source also alleged that the residence permit given to Schilt, as well as the contract position of Palmer, were under the microscope.

Tensions reached the crescendo last Tuesday when nurses went on a sit-in demanding, among other things, that management explain why it had instituted a restructuring exercise targeting only Malawians.

Nurses and Midwives Council Registrar Martha Mondiwa confirmed that the council rejected Schilt’s application since it was not mandated to register Scrub Technicians.

But on his part, MCM Registrar Abel Kawonga confirmed that Schilt was registered by the council, quashing reports that the registration was irregular.

“The information we have in our records is that she is an Operating Theatre Technician. She is well qualified,” he said, adding:

“There were no short cuts involved during her registration (process). When she came to Malawi, we subjected her to orientation at QECH theatre. Even the QECH director said she was exceptional.”

Immigration Department spokesperson Martha Gonondo also dismissed allegations surrounding Schilt’s residence status, saying the Dutch national has a valid work permit.

“She has a valid permit which is already endorsed. She applied for it on 13 February 2013 and it will expire on 12 February 2015,” she said.

In an interview on Friday, Palmer also dismissed all the allegations.

“It is not true that we restructuring with the aim of getting rid of Malawian workers. We have over 120 members of staff of which less than 10 are foreign staff. If we have to restructure, who do you think may be affected? It’s the majority,” he said.

Palmer also quashed reports that his contract had expired, saying: “I don’t have a contract. I have been a volunteer in Malawi for eight years. My TEP is not expired. Am I leaving (Malawi)? Yes, we decided sometime last year that I and my family should have some time outside Malawi. I left the UK some 30 years ago and have never gone back. So, we have decided to spend some time there. I am leaving Malawi but my connection with Cure will remain.” – Reported by Richard Chirombo

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