General Zé Maria’s Spring Clean

Although at 74 he is well over retirement age (65) and was expected to be forcibly retired this month, General António José Maria – the Angolan President’s most faithful servant for nearly 40 years – is being allowed to remain at the head of the Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISM) until the elections at which President José Eduardo dos Santos will step down.

His subordinates, who were expecting him to have left already, are increasingly unable to contain their frustration at his unorthodox leadership style, frequently marked by personal quirks which they say are unbecoming in a senior officer.

General Zé Maria’s latest ‘wheeze’ was to demand that all civilian employees engaged in courses of study must produce their certificates and course marks for inspection by February 27 so he may personally evaluate their grades.

Some 50 civilian employees are affected and any employee with failing grades is expected to lose their jobs, as are any colleagues not currently engaged in studies. This sudden demand is not only unexpected but likely contravenes Angola’s employment laws.

Legal opinion suggests that it would only be reasonable for SISM to demand pass grades if the department were paying for the employees’ studies or otherwise subsidising them. In that instance it could stipulate that further funding could be denied if the employee failed to achieve a pass grade. However, in this case the employees concerned say that SISM has never funded their studies nor offered them study grants.

From what Maka Angola has learned, the General is taking advantage of any petty excuse to get rid of unwanted personnel, e.g. dismissing a cook named Narete who had only been taken on in December, for having cooked okra with tomatoes, when his preference is for plain okra seasoned only with salt.

Others have been ousted for failing to greet the General “in the correct manner”. And one unfortunate lady was terminated for taking a call on her phone while in the ladies’ bathroom.

Bizarrely, in that instance, the lady was caught “in flagrante” chatting on her phone during a surprise inspection of the female facilities by the General in person. Apparently female employees have complained repeatedly that the boss has a habit of going ‘above and beyond the call of duty’, ensuring his ‘inspections’ extend to personally checking the ladies’ cubicles.

A well-placed source at the Ministry of Defense explains that the SISM Chief’s sudden insistence on inspecting study credentials is a ruse for General Zé Maria to downsize his department, ridding it of improperly-contracted personnel.

This source told Maka Angola that, for reasons known only to himself, over many years the General has given very well-paid jobs to a number of women who were not required to apply through the usual channels. Not only were there no public recruitment process nor selection panels but these employees were not on the official payroll and were instead paid out of SISM’s ‘management fund’ with no employment contracts and no social security. In effect they are casual workers, the majority of whom have been in SISM’s employ for five to ten years. Insiders allege that the General only offered such jobs to women he found attractive or interesting and that he’s now using any ruse, including poor study grades, to ease a large number out before the change of command.

“With a reduced budget, SISM can no longer afford cleaning ladies paid the equivalent of a Major’s salary, or cooks earning as much as a Brigadier,” said our source in the Defense Ministry. So before he leaves for good, the venerable General is conducting a departmental clear-out.