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Probe uncovers rot in education

Teachers promoted themselves

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An investigation which Office of the Ombudsman launched into the Ministries of Education (MoE) and Local Government and Rural Development has uncovered rot in the manner in which 20,000 primary and secondary school teachers were promoted in April 2019.

The investigation also established that some teachers authored their own promotion letters and ended up having their salaries increased based on the fraudulent letters.

Presenting findings of the report in Lilongwe Wednesday, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma described the promotions as unfair and illegal because the teachers never went through any interviews as per standard procedure.

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In the report, titled ‘Sacrificed at the Political Altar’, Chizuma questioned the timing of the handpicked promotions as they came barely a month before the annulled May 21 presidential election.

The Ombudsman embarked on the investigation after her office received complaints from 16 secondary school teachers from Karonga District and one primary school teacher from Rumphi District, dated August 22 2019 and September 10 2019, respectively.

“Among other irregularities, the secondary school teachers alleged that the Ministry of Education conducted the April 2019 promotions irregularly by promoting teachers without requiring them to undergo interviews, thereby denying some deserving teachers promotion. They alleged that the Ministry of Education did this at the expense of an advertisement that was issued requiring deserving officers to submit promotion applications which the teachers had responded to.

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“Similarly, the primary school teacher complained that, although he qualified for promotion, based on the required number of years of service he— unlike his colleagues with the same number of service years— was not promoted. The investigation focused on two issues, namely whether the Ministry of Education followed the law and existing procedures to effect the promotions, and whether it was justified to effect promotions without interviews,” Chizuma said.

However, the Ombudsman said investigators found that officials from the MoE and Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development had no readily available statistics concerning the number of teachers they have and the number of vacant positions available.

The investigations further discovered that Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the Local Government Service Commission had initiated the promotion process for primary and secondary school teachers in November 2018 by calling out for applications and that applications had been received.

“Short-listing was taking place. In February 2018, however, this process was halted after a meeting that took place in February 2019 where the SE Mr Justin Saidi, the ST Mr Cliff Chiunda, Secretary for Local Government, the Budget Director Mr Ponderani and Tum officials were present where they decided against the interviewing process and opted for direct promotion.

“Legally, under Section 4 of the Public Service Act, advancement in public service is determined solely on the basis of merit namely relative ability, knowledge, skill and aptitude after a fair and open competition which assures that all citizens receive equal opportunity. This means that every promotion in the public service has to be by way of interview.

“In addition, the Human Resource Management Procedure Manual is further clear that decisions on the mode of promotion can only be made by relevant service commissions; in this case, these an LGSC and the TSC. The decision by these public officers was therefore illegal and was made ultra vires [and] amounted to unreasonable discharge of functions. This is maladministration,” Chizuma said.

The Ombudsman further said her office found that the reasons that were given justifying the adoption of direct promotion, namely that it would have been costly and tedious to conduct interviews, were unreasonable in the sense that the process was already budgeted for, had already started and was doable.

“The abandoning of the process demonstrates sheer laziness and laissez-faire attitude. This is maladministration,” Chizuma said.

She said the shortcuts adopted in the promotion resulted in the promotion of 22 teachers who were answering disciplinary charges, some of which bordered on sexually assaulting learners under their care.

She was, however, quick to point out that, although the promotions were unfair and illegal, she could not direct that they be reversed because it would be an administrative nightmare to effect such reversal.

“This is where we, as a nation, have to understand how dangerous and costly some of the poor and politically driven administrative decisions in the public sphere can be and leave institutions which are supposed to correct that, like my office, a bit helpless. In addition through my Office the complainants are seeking that they be equally promoted directly.

“I cannot just direct that they should be promoted as that will be illegal on its own and, moreover, there is no assessment on the ground to determine if indeed there are vacancies on the ground and, if there are, how many. I, therefore, direct that the DEMs [district education managers] in liaison with their councils should make an assessment of the current vacant positions under their jurisdiction and produce reports about the exercise accordingly.

“The MoE in liaison with the EDMs should also conduct an assessment of the current vacant positions under their jurisdiction. A copy of each assessment report should be submitted to me by 31st March 2021,” Chizuma said.

Meanwhile, Director of Human Resource Management in the Ministry of Education Cicely Kampanje has said her ministry will investigate the issue.

Education Minister Agnes Nyalonje also said her ministry welcomed the Ombudsman’s report.

She pledged to deep deeper into the matter.

However, Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe bemoaned that ill-intentioned actions by MoE officials frustrate hardworking teachers who are not politically connected.

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