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President’s prerogative comes under scrutiny

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Decisions by the country’s presidents to fire senior government officials without informing them in advance have sparked controversy among different commentators with most of them suggesting that presidents “need to be human enough”.

Currently, there is no legal requirement for presidents to inform in advance those they intend to fire from different positions and the officials, particularly cabinet ministers, would only learn through the media that they have been sacked.

According to political commentators, this is a trend that has been there since time immemorial even though in certain cases, officials who had pricked a president on the wrong place would sometimes be told openly that they were facing the chop.

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The current debate on presidents’ prerogatives regarding firing senior government officials follow revelations that former minister of information and communication technology, Malison Ndau, had only learnt about his fate through the media.

In an interview with Monday’s edition of The Daily Times, Ndau said he was in his office when he learnt through a ‘breaking news’ text on state-controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) television that he had ceased being cabinet minister.

This has sparked a great deal of controversy on the social media and other forums regarding presidential decisions, particularly those involving senior officials who apparently deserve some respect.

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In an interview Wednesday, Chancellor College political scientist Mustapha Hussein argued that there should be some sort of prior communication so that the victim is not taken unawares when he gets the news in the media.

Hussein said even though there is no clear law that compels presidents to inform in advance someone they intend to fire, it would be human enough for the leaders not to embarrass the official.

“This whole thing brings us to government procedures in doing things. Even in business, there is proper etiquette regarding how such issues can be handled. I think we all need to be human enough because dismissing someone is never good news,” said Hussein.

He added that these days when communication is very easy, it would be proper to inform someone through different means including email that they have been fired even before the news reaches the media.

“In that way, the officer will feel respected no matter the circumstances, because at the end of the day, we are talking about someone like a cabinet minister who is a very senior officer,” said Hussein.

There are reports that some cabinet ministers in the past got the message that they had been fired while attending meetings which they were supposed to officially open.

In a separate interview Wednesday, Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) Executive Director Kizito Tenthani, said perhaps the most important thing is whether presidents and their ministers appraise each other on the progress that the ministers make in their respective capacities.

According to Tenthani, this would allow the president to make it clear to the minister that he is failing to perform his or her duties and that, therefore, he or she might be relieved of his duties.

“To me, the issue of informing someone in advance is not really a problem. However, the issue should be whether the two parties do discuss to see whether they are doing the same thing. Unfortunately, we do not know what happens in the background.

“Our laws are silent on whether a president should inform in advance someone he intends to dismiss from a ministerial position. They only say it is a presidential prerogative, so perhaps it is an issue of umunthu (being human enough) that should matter,” said Tenthani.

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