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Presidential ultimatums

Lazarus Chakwera takes on boards, controlling officers

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Benedicto Kondowe

Slightly over 120 days after he had promised that his government would purposefully clear the rubble in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), President Lazarus Chakwera Thursday was visibly frustrated at the apparently slow pace the exercise is taking.

The President, who returned to address Malawians immediately after one of the biggest public scandals in recent memory—where Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination papers got leaked—dared boards of statutory corporations and principal secretaries (PSs) to immediately get down to work and cleanse the MDAs that they oversee.

Throughout his speech, whose English version lasted about 14 minutes, the President stressed his points with shrugs that seemed to be directed at members of his Cabinet sitting in front of him.

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He admitted at the very beginning that he was addressing Malawians “in a state of anguish” at the pace of executing the clearing of the rubble.

In an apparent move to show his frustration with failure by relevant authorities to act on the MSCE examination matter, Chakwera directed the firing of top management at Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb).

The President also ordered that the examinations, whose leakage he believes was deliberate and an act of negligence, be re-administered not later than January 2021.

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“To have several secondary school exam papers leaked and the education of hundreds of thousands of students thrown off course is simply unacceptable. Whatever the motives, this is clearly a deliberate act occasioned by elements of criminality, impunity and negligence that cannot be allowed to continue,” Chakwera charged.

He has since given the Ministry of Education—whose leader Agnes NyaLonje kept nodding as the President tackled the leakage saga—a week to work with Maneb and discipline officers who oversaw and perpetrated the mess.

Regarding the appointment of Hellen Buluma as acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for State-owned National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma), Chakwera criticised the board for making the decision which he said was not what Malawians had expected.

He has since ordered Nocma’s board, headed by Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zanga- Zanga Chikhosi, to address the matter in the next two weeks.

He further charged that while some PSs and directors that were improperly recruited have been removed and replaced, such work would continue for some time.

The President also indicated that boards should immediately work on clearing the rubble in parastatals where he said office bearers have been abusing their public positions to advance personal or political party interests.

He warned that all the public officers who fail to perform by the end of this year will be fired from their positions.

Meanwhile, Livingstonia University political analyst George Phiri has urged the government to find a clear strategy on how to bring sanity in public institutions.

Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, has welcomed Chakwera’s directive that proper action should be taken on Maneb management.

“This is a very serious matter; as such, we would want a very objective investigation and findings should be made public so that Malawians can appreciate what happened. Together, we can be part of the reform process in the administration of examinations,” Kondowe said.

Meanwhile, leader of opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa has described President Chakwera’s address on Thursday as a threat to people’s freedom of conscience and political pluralism as enshrined in the Constitution of Malawi.

Nankhumwa is particularly critical of a directive by president Chakwera for a parastatal board to fire an Acting CEO based on her perceived DPP political affiliation.

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