Tension between local fish vendors and Maldeco Fisheries Limited in Mangochi is refusing to die with locals planning to petition Mangochi District Commissioner to pacify the two sides following the company's decision not to sell fish to people from the vicinity Malawi News has learnt.
The situation follows squabbles that degenerated into violent raids on the company's property which led to the arrest of about 33 people leading to a temporary closure of Maldeco's operations over a month ago.
Latest reports from Michesi Village where Maldeco Fisheries is located indicate that there is growing disenchantment among people of the area in response to the position that the company has taken when it announced on November 4 that it had resumed its operations but would not open a sales outlet at its premises. This was in reaction to the fracas that took place because of disagreements over prices of fish.
According to chairperson of fish vendors Abel Miliyoni who was among the people arrested during the fracas the decision by Maldeco to stop selling fish to locals has negatively affected their lives and have threatened unspecified action.
"All our lives we have been involved in this business and we believed that after government intervention through (Hon) Kaliati and other DPP officials we could be given chance," Million said, "but instead we are now buying fish from Monkey bay, Namiasi and Mangochi boma. We have ceased all hostilities now it's the company that has issues against us."
Miliyoni said local people had decided to take the issue to the District Commissioner to help them convince the company to open the sales outlet.
"Since we have failed to convince the company to help us in this matter we are now lobbying the DC to convince management of the company after we have seen that they were annoyed with the intervention of party functionaries," he said.
The situation is said to have contributed to heavy losses and lack of economic activity on the part of the local vendors.
"Just imagine we have to spend transport following the Maldeco van to places as far as Monkey bay in order to buy fish. Whenever we ask them they say they cannot help us because the issue is with headquarters. Why are they punishing us like this," asked one of the vendors Falles Nkorongo.
Chairperson of the board of the Foods Company Pius Mulipa while defending his company's decision to stop the fish sales to locals blamed political interference into the issue.
"In the Press Release we issued to announce the resumption of operations at Maldeco, we indicated that in the interest of safety, sales of fish would no longer be conducted at the factory premises. As a matter of fact, this development opens up opportunities for local business people to open franchise shops to sell Maldeco fish as is already the case elsewhere in the country", said Mulipa.
"The crisis was in fact a resurrection of an earlier crisis, which occurred a few weeks earlier which was founded on a demand by local fish vendors that Maldeco should sell fish to them at prices they deemed fit (rather than what Maldeco determined)," Mulipa said "When the seeds of the second crisis were planted at a political rally, the board of the Foods Company met and resolved to temporarily cease operations to safeguard employees and property from an impending attack, but also to create time during which to resolve the whole question about whether a private company should be treated that way".
However, Adam Yasin speaking on behalf of Village Headman Michesi justified the intervention of politicians from the ruling party saying, "when we are being oppressed we rush to the government. This issue is not new it happened also during the MCP era we complained to government and Mr John Tembo intervened on our behalf. What is strange now?" queried Yasin.
When posed with the question what preference the local vendors can be given Information Minister Patricia Kaliati who intervened when the conflict began had no kind words for the company's management.
"All the local people are asking are fair prices and not to be given fish for free. Now the company is so arrogant and does not want to discuss with the people and you want government to keep quiet?" Kaliati said.
Kaliati blamed top management of Press Corporation and the Foods Company of nursing political ambitions, claiming she can even mention their political parties.
Maldeco is the biggest fishery in Malawi which supplies fish to many parts of the country.