Former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s widow Callista and two others have been fired from their public service jobs for allegedly engaging in active politics through their association with the newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM).
Besides Callista, who worked as presidential adviser on safe motherhood, the others are George Saonda who served as director of administration in the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs deputy director of administration Chiza Mbekeani.
State Residences director general Peter Mukhito confirmed yesterday about Callista’s firing, but did not state the reasons.
In a letter Ref No. CS/S/001 dated September 19 2018 signed by Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Lloyd Muhara, Mbekeani was initially advised: “I write to inform you that pursuant to Article III of the local employment contract agreement that you signed with government, your services as deputy director of administration [Grade E/P4] are no longer required and have consequently been terminated.
“This follows your active involvement in politics contrary to Section 193 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and circular letter Ref.No. CS/S/001 dated 28th June 2018 on public servants and the 2019 Tripartite Elections…”
However, the Chief Secretary on September 28 2018 wrote Mbekeani again alongside Saonda, stating that their employment contracts were terminated because their services were “no longer required”.
In an earlier interview, Mbekeani admitted to be a supporter of UTM which is promoting the presidential candidacy of the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections after breaking ranks with the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in June this year.
He said his membership of UTM did not compromise his official work.
Said Mbekeani: “The Constitution talks about freedom of association and by supporting UTM I am exercising my right and the OPC memo you are referring to, specifically talked about seeking political office and I am not seeking any. I am just a supporter who does not hide his allegiance like others.”
Two weeks ago, Saonda also admitted to be a member of UTM and that he would contest for the parliamentary race in Blantyre Bangwe Constituency. He said he would resign after his three-month leave.
He said: “I am currently on leave and while on leave I will write the government that I have resigned from my position. My plan is to resign any time, but I cannot mention the date.”
In June this year, Muhara issued a circular letter to all heads of government institutions advising civil servants who wish to seek political office to resign before doing so.
But our findings indicate that civil servants openly aligned to DPP have been spared.
In September, our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday exposed how OPC failed to discipline Ministry of Health chief director responsible for safe motherhood Chimwemwe Chipungu and his deputy director Clement Mwale for their active participation in politics.
Chipungu is DPP national organising secretary while Mwale contested for the position of secretary general at the DPP convention but lost.
Efforts to talk to Chipungu yesterday proved futile as he did not pick our calls and did not respond to our message while Mwale avoided the questions and said: “Why are you calling me? You are stupid!”
Deputy director responsible for Public Events, Zeria Chakale, is also a DPP national governing council (NGC) member.
When asked if she had received any communication from OPC terminating her contract, she referred the issue to DPP and government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi.
Said Chakale: “Please, ask that question to the DPP and government spokesperson. I am not in a position to talk about that… In short, I am so busy now.”
Civil Service Commission commissioner Yacinta Chikaonda is also vying for the Dedza East parliamentary seat by her own admission.
In an earlier interview, she said: “I am still a civil servant and when that time comes for me to be there, I will terminate my contract. It is a five-year contract. I have already served 30 months. So, when I decide to compete then I will give three months notice and then resign.”
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College associate professor of law Mwiza Nkhata argued that the Constitution empowered Parliament to prescribe a category of civil servants who by reason of their seniority should not directly participate in political activities.
He said Parliament can help to regulate the conduct of civil servants in the context of political participation by taking advantage of Section 193 (2) of the Constitution.
The section reads in part: “The National Assembly may prescribe a category of civil servants, who by reason of their seniority shall not be able to directly participate in political activities: (a) Provided that – the civil servant so restricted shall have the right to resign in order to participate directly in political activities.”
Nkhata said: “I think the Constitution has further helped to clarify matters if you check the same section [c] that any civil servant whose functions are not directly concerned with the formulation and administration of the policies of government shall be exempt from restrictions under this section. And if I look at positions mentioned [directors], I think they are connected to policy formulation therefore they need not be politically engaged.”
Efforts to talk to OPC proved futile as Principal Secretary (Administration) Cliff Chiunda did not respond to our calls and questionnaire while Muhara cut the line immediately the subject was introduced.
Muhara added that he was abroad and “roaming is expensive”.n