There is chaos in local councils following the interdiction of district commissioners (DCs) and chief executive officers (CEOs)—as those appointed to act have no written communication.
A senior government official confided in us that the standard procedure is that when one has been appointed to act on behalf of the head of the institution there has to be written communication, which is not the case.
Our random check in councils also showed that those appointed to act have not received appointment letters, raising questions of the legitimacy of their positions. Some of the appointed officers, confided in us that they are in an awkward position to make certain decisions in the absence of written communication.
Said one of them: “The issue is when the DC goes away he appoints one of the directors, especially the most senior to act on their behalf and there is a communication to that effect. Now in our case we were just informed by phone from the Ministry of Local Government that we have to act. It does not work that way. Our decisions may be questioned later”.
While the ministry has promised to dispatch letters as soon as possible—almost three weeks after the interdiction was effected—it is evident that those working on behalf of DCs and CEOs are equally confused as they are not sure of their positions.
In separate interviews, both Mayor for Lilongwe Juliana Kaduya and Blantyre’s Wild Ndipo, confirmed that those working in place of CEOs have not received any written communication.
But the two gave different explanations. Kaduya said her officer got a call from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to work as a “sit-in CEO and not acting CEOs” wheareas Ndipo said the letters are expected to what he called ad hoc CEOs. The acting CEO for Blantyre Costly Chanza said he was not acting, but “just working on behalf of the CEO”, “because the term ‘acting’ has is legal implications”.
John Maneya, who is working as CEO for Luchenza Municipality—for lack of written communication—called himself a caretaker CEO.
But for Rumphi, the acting district commissioner, who is district education manager Macphine Mzumara said he got a letter of appointment as acting CEO from the interdicted DC, a development the council chairperson confirmed.
Acting executive director of Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) Hadrod Mkandawire, confirmed writing the ministry on the issue, asking it to rectify the anomaly.
Mkandawire said written communication is both legally and procedurally necessary; otherwise, those acting may have difficulties to effectively execute their duties—as they may not be able to make certain decisions.
When contacted for explanation, acting controlling officer in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Charles Makanga said the letters had delayed due to what he called “government machinery”.
He said it is the intention of the ministry to send these letters as soon as possible.
Commenting on the matter in response to our questionnaire, lecturer in public policy and administration at Chancellor College Professor Happy Kayuni said written communication is critical.
“In this era whereby government is projecting a progressive reform agenda for the public sector, it needs to move away from relying on oral communication. It projects an image of lack of seriousness on the part of government. It is difficult to verify if indeed they are occupying those positions legitimately,” he said.
On his part, labour expert Mauya Msuku said written communication may not really matter if concerned parties (employer and the employee) have some clear understanding of the terms. He observed that putting matters in writing is only helpful for purposes of evidence.
“Much as it is prudent to have terms in writing, just as so long the parties have understood the terms. Putting it in writing is more of evidential requirement in case of need,” he said.