Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fired for suggesting lunch improvments

I used to work as a media and communication consultant for IRD, SPR project, a major USAID contractor building 400 million dollars worth of roads in southern and eastern Afghanistan. My contract was terminated on the 23rd June by the Chief of Party, Frederick Chace, for allegedly ‘accusing IRD of separation of classes’. here you can see the termination letter The termination letter is a false accusation and I was wrongly terminated. I did not protest against the treatment of Afghans or the privileges of expatriate staff. The day before my termination (June22) I complained about the poor quality of office lunch but what I then thought important was some suggestions about improving lunch environment and space. My suggestion was in response to an email which offered special food only for expatriates. This is the email.
From: Leonard Fexton Chitekwe

Sent: 22 June 2009 07:45

To: International; National Staff

Subject: July 4th

July 4th is America’s Independence Day holiday. This is a public holiday for ALL staff. SPR offices in Kabul and Kandahar will be closed for business on this day.
A special meal for expats is being arranged and if you have ideas contact Johan Venter. Details will follow later.

Leonard Chitekwe-Mwale
Senior Director of Finance and Administration
SPR_SEA Program
International Relief and Development, Inc (IRD)
Kabul, Afghanistan
Ph: +93 (0) 796 110 003
I found this email quite disturbing. We are celebrating American national holiday in Afghanistan, but Afghans are not welcomed to fully celebrate the occasion. Special meal is only offered for expatriates. This resembles very much the colonial ages; rules and regulations are placed to compel locals to observe the dominant nation’s culture but they are not fully welcomed.
I am a fan of American culture and I think many IRD Afghan employees would enjoy American cultural occasions. Both Afghan and expatriates celebrating Afghan and American cultural occasions together could bridge the current distrust. Afghans generally are hospitable and welcoming to share happy occasion; although, I can not ask Leonard or IRD in general to invite me and Afghans to 4th of July special meal; but I think the email was ungenerous at best and rude, especially when it was addressed to both Afghans and expatriates.

I thought an invitation to a single occasion, particularly when it could be more special to expatriates than Afghans, could not make a difference in perceptions. I wanted to make a suggestion with longer term effect on attitudes. I suggested that Afghans and expatriates eating lunch together would be effective in improving relationships.
in response to leonard I sent this:
From: Sanjar Qiam

Sent: 22 June 2009 09:07

To: Leonard Fexton Chitekwe; Johan Venter

Subject: lunch
Dear both,
It is great that you are celebrating 4th of July; it is a great cultural exchange for Afghans and third country nationals.
I had a suggestion on a separate issue – lunch. I have been in IRD but I have rarely been to lunch; the quality of food, service and environment is poor and in some ways degrading. The food is served in basement packed with hundreds of IRD staff, white plastic chairs and tables and flies. The food is poorly cooked; most often super greasy. It is only one course and one item.
Segregation of Afghans is unpleasant. Working for Afghans and segregation – a system based on phobia - doesn’t go hand in hand; this raises questions about motives of IRD management.
My suggestion is to mix Afghans and foreigners lunch. Obviously, that would mean foreigners would lose some privileges but that is for a good cause – improvement of afghans lunch. It won’t be possible to have lunch in one location so staff has to be divided between several buildings and food should be cooked in each building with different menu so people can have a choice.
Looking forward to changes,

Frederick Chace IRD-SPR chief of party asked me to see him in his office at once. Nadir Abdullah, HR manager, and an IT officer were present too. Frederick Chace was very aggressive and rude; every other sentence contained the ‘F***’ word.
- ‘There is no difference between Afghans and expatriates in IRD. It is only in the narrow minds of people like you who make bigotry statements.’ Said Frederick.
- ‘what do you mean there is no difference? When I came to the gate of your building they wanted me to show my ID and they searched me thoroughly; when an expatiate is coming s/he is being escorted by a bodyguard and the door opens prior to his or her arrival. There is even special expatriate desk and there is afghan desk and it goes to many other little things. The system is through to segregate. This whole system of privileges places expatriate psychologically above equally qualified Afghan counterpart’ I said.
- ‘I was shot in my head by Taliban … but I came back… Expatriates leave everything they have and come to work in Afghanistan. They have a better life at home and they come to a very poor situation, this is not a privilege’ said chace. Frederick’s wife is the reporting manager while my departments’ manager appointed his wife as my direct supervisor. So they are not exactly leaving everything at home. Expatriates like Frederick are running IRD like their home.
- ‘Expatriates are paid several times more than equally qualified Afghans. In the last four months since I work in IRD I had no time off; my expatriate colleagues were paid at least two to three times for their holidays’ I said. here is IRD benefit package for expatriates . There are some 26 benefit packages; expatriates only receive 70% of their base salary in post differential and danger pay. The only thing I received as an Afghan was a salary and no paid leave let alone paying for holidays.
- ‘Expatriates have high expenses and they used to be paid better at home. Afghans are making 1000 – 1500 dollars a month. Nobody used to make this kind of money in this country… They don’t need that kind of money…’ said chace.
- ‘This is sick – Afghans don’t need money – this is the same thing told about the slaves – why do they need wages when they can have food and shelter. Everybody needs money but a sound social system allocates this scarce resource not based on our nationality and creed but by our excellence and hard work. Everybody should be paid based on their contribution and merits, not their nationality.’ I said.
- ‘expatriates are putting their lives at risk … and they are going to what is now home for some quite time and food… something narrow mind people don’t understand’
- ‘IRD only value the lives of expatriates, not Afghans. Foreigners are given half a dozen body guards and two armoured vehicles when travelling inside Kabul city and even more security when going to provinces. Afghans are constantly at risk. An Afghan colleague was made to resign because he had a family emergency and couldn’t travel to a province where he was provided no security. He was very concern about his safety and informed so his expatriate manager who asked him to resign if he is not prepared to go. When Afghans travel they take public transport. Yet, statistics shows Afghans are the victims than expatriates.’ I said. There have been at least three cases since I had worked in IRD where IRD staff or contractors were killed and they were all Afghans. In a couple of instances IRD-SPR concealed it from its funder USAID.
- ‘what statistics! I was shot in the head by Taliban… The person who you are talking about is an isolated case which I do not now about… IRD-SPR puts its staff, especially Afghans, safety at most importance.’ Said Frederick.

This conversation went on for an hour and then he told me he categorically can not accept such remarks and he has fired four employees before me for making such comments and he has to do the same with me. ‘I have to treat everybody the same’ he said. When I left his office with the IT and HR persons, both Afghans, were strangely quiet. Nadir walked around with his head hanging and said ‘I am sorry’. I said ‘don’t be. I don’t need this job; it is excruciating’. He said ‘not for that but for what he said and his attitude.’ But what can he do except being sorry along with thousands of other Afghans. They need their jobs and have to put up with people like Frederick.

I wonder if zero tolerance policy to suggestions about office lunch that challenges well trenched segregation policies could be considered discrimination.