UNAIDS Ethiopia head stirs controversy

by Zelalem

Placed under administrative leave

With mounting pressure both internally and externally, over allegations of personal and professional misconduct, UNAids has put the head of its Ethiopian office, Miriam Maluwa, on administrative leave to conduct an independent operational and management review of its local operations, The Reporter has learnt.

Maluwa claimed that her suspension was due to her being a key witness in the recent sexual harassment case involving Dr. Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The UN has indicated that their decision against Maluwa “is not related to the recent case of sexual harassment.” 

A Malawian native and three decades of service with the UN, mostly in the Caribbean including Jamaica, The Bahamas, Cuba and Belize; Maluwa stands accused of a misconduct. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign affairs in a statement said that “it is a code of behavior (that stands) far below what would have been expected from an international civil servant; in all of her discourses with the Ministry as well as in failing to discharge her obligations which appear to be a pattern rather than an incident.”

A number of landlords, her domestic worker, associates, a shipping company and a security company that has guarded her sprawling USD 6,000 per month property in Bole have made an array of complaints, painting her as an international civil servant that has taken her privileged status for granted in Ethiopia.

Some have taken their complaints to the government, while the rest have turned to the local courts, giving a negative attention to the UN operation in Ethiopia.

“She was constantly late with payments over a property I had rented for her in the Sar Bete area at a cost of USD 5,000 and took her belongings out while I was out of Addis for a medical treatment,” said Demessie Alemayehu, her previous landlord. “I am owed payments of more than five month and other costs (about USD 30,000) and it has been difficult to collect, worsening my condition and bringing personal and financial pressure on me.”

Maluwa also contacted Akakas Logistics PLC for the transportation of her belongings when she first moved to Ethiopia in June 2015 and rebuffed them when it was time to pay up. “It has been more than three years and every time we communicate with her, she just mentions her two law degrees and privilege of the law and hangs up the phone,” Bayu Mulat, manager at Akakas told The Reporter.

“We have turned to MoFA for help. We assisted her, trusted her because of her position and association with the UN”. The company claims to be owed about USD 3,500. 

The Ethiopian government, through its Foreign Ministry has constantly communicated with the UN Resident Coordinator to Ethiopia, the guardian of all the UN agencies in the country. However, it was said to have come to a dead-end with no solution in sight, forcing the government to communicate with the headquarters of UNAIDS in Geneva for a swift action on the case, The Reporter has learnt.

“The Ministry’s efforts to resolve the aforementioned complaints amicably through mediation couldn’t bear any fruit due partly to her failure to show up at the Ministry when she was called upon to do so and partly due to her defiance to accept the opinion of the ministry following the exhaustion of the negotiation of some of the cases,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote.

We have submitted an official complaint within UNAIDS said Meles Alem, Spokesperson of Foreign affairs. “we have heard a host of people who have complained about her. Our role is to have everyone respect the rule of the land and that of the host nation. In this case, we feel the system has failed many people and that is why we have filed our grievances through the proper channel and we await their timely response,” he told The Reporter via phone interview.

Furthermore, she stands accused for late payments and mounting debt by Securicor Ethiopia PLC, where she has contracted security guards for the property.

“Her account was late with payment, by as much as 70,000 Birr at one point, but she delivered the due amount in cash,” the owner said. “At the moment, she is late by almost two months,” he added.

While Maluwa reportedly says she holds two degrees, she is also adamant that she be addressed as “Dr. Miriam Maluwa”, despite not having the academic credentials. “She always insisted to call her ‘Dr.’ or her name with the full title,” a former security guard at the residence said. “If not, she can be rude, obnoxious and seems to have a mood swing that moves from being extremely polite to being extremely rude.”

Described as having a revolving-door policy at her residence, many domestic workers are said to complain about ill treatment, including termination of work with no sufficient reasons and none payment for work rendered. Emawayeah Setotaw, a domestic worker, complained to the ministry over her unexpected termination of employment after she inquired about her pay.

“I appreciate Maluwa’s move to report any wrong doing in the organization and encourage her to continue to do so. However, there should be an important distinction between her disclosures and the current administrative situation she is in,” a senior staff member of the UN who wants to stay anonymous told The Reporter. “I trust that efforts will be made to establish why complaints were mounting both internally and externally”.

The Reporter reached out to Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, the UN Resident Coordinator to Ethiopia, on the phone, despite promising to speak to the paper, she failed to reply to a slew of text and phone calls.

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