Either, the government is playing games with the Teachers’ Union of Malawi (TUM) or TUM itself, the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Parliamentary Committee on Education (PCE) overlooked a very important issue during talks that led to the calling off of the teachers’ strike on March 8 2021.
The two parties to the memorandum of understanding (MoU) that led to the suspension of the strike were TUM and MoE. PCE brokered the talks between TUM and MoE. It’s main contribution in the talks that seemed to have broken the impasse between TUM and the MoE was its suggestion or recommendation that teachers be paid Covid-19 allowances with the money meant for buying personal protective equipment (PPEs) for schools and colleges.
Three weeks on, in a letter signed by chairperson of PCE Brainex Kaise, the parliamentary committee informs TUM president Willy Malimba that the Presidential Task Force on Covid has rejected the proposal to pay teachers the cash value of the PPEs. Herein was the problem in the whole deal.
The proposal to pay teachers allowances was juicy. Teachers would get what they wanted—risk allowances. In the proposal, MoE was not footing any bill. Hence it was also game to the deal. For making TUM call off the strike, PCE became a hero. But alas! It was just a lot of hot air.
Whose money was PCE proposing to reallocate to teachers as allowances? Agreed, on the face of it, we can say it was taxpayers’ money. But then government had given this money to the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 with clear terms of reference (TORs). Among them was to buy PPEs for schools and colleges. But did PCE discuss or let alone agree with the Presidential Task Force on Covid-9 beforehand to use money meant for PPEs to be paid to teachers? It looks like it did not. This is where the problem is.
In short, PCE seemed to have promised the moon. The committee had no powers whatsoever to reallocate money it did not have powers over. The long and short of it is that PCE should have discussed with government, or at the very least, the Presidential Task Force on its proposal before making a whole MoE and TUM sign an MoU over money that belonged elsewhere.
For starters, we all know teachers wanted money, not PPEs. So it was foolhardy to think that they would have used the risk allowances to buy PPEs. For the task force doing so would have been tantamount to leaving the duty of procuring PPEs to teachers for which we have already said would have been a misstep. There was absolutely no assurance teachers would have used the risk allowances for buying anything resembling PPEs.
So, PCE goofed big time. Parliamentary committees’ decisions are not laws unto themselves. At best the committees just recommend its decisions for the bigger plenary to stamp them.
MoE was aware of this. But it had long run out of ideas on how to solve the problem on its lap. All it was interested in was for TUM to call off the strike. So anything brought on the table that looked like gold when it was not, was welcome. Like PCE, MoE was complicit in duping TUM.
Could TUM have done better? Absolutely! TUM was naïve. It did not act like the clever chap who can organise a nationwide strike for teachers. Had TUM taken a little time to question the basis of the MoU, it would have found out that the document was framed and built on sinking sand. The teachers’ body should have wondered why in all the rounds and layers of discussions it had with MoE and PCE and several other stakeholders, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 was nowhere to be seen. And yet they were the purse keepers. TUM just assumed that because they were dealing with government agencies therefore everything was OK. They should have known government systems and procedures better especially where money is concerned.
The Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 did not receive a blank cheque. The money it was allocated had clear TORs and deliverables. And paying teachers’ risk allowances was not one of them. We have already wasted a lot of time and are back to square one. To avoid wasting more time President Lazarus Chakwera should intervene in the matter.