One of the new land laws enacted by Parliament last year is the Customary Land Act, 2016. Among other things, the Act states that there shall be a traditional land management area under each traditional authority in this country. Under each traditional land management area, there shall be a customary land committee which shall oversee the administration and management of customary land in the traditional land management area. A customary land committee shall be served by a land clerk as its secretary. The Act states as follows about the land clerk: The clerk shall, among other things, possess a Malawi School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent.
This got me thinking about who is eligible to become a councillor, a Member of Parliament or the President under Malawi’s political system. For our discussion today, we note that in relation to eligibility of councillors, the Local Government (Elections) Act state that a person must be able to speak and read the English language well enough to take an active part in the proceedings of the Council; in the case of eligibility of Members of Parliament, the Constitution states that a person must be able to speak and read the English language well enough to take an active part in the proceedings of Parliament; and for the eligibility of President, neither the Constitution nor any law of this country states anything about the presidential candidate’s capability to speak and read the English or other language in the discharge of his duty as a President. The language test is a relic of Malawi’s colonial past under British rule.
English was the language for conducting Malawi Government business. The norm has remained post-1964.
The Constitutions of 1964 and 1966 respectively provided for the language test. And English remains the language of conducting Malawi Government business in this country. The matter of the language test, certainly for parliamentarians, exercised the minds of the special Law Commission on the review of the Constitution in its report of 2007. The commission conceded that the available statistics indicated that very few people have formal educational qualifications in Malawi.
[The figures were as low as 16 per cent for men and 8 per cent for women]. However, the commission still recommended that formal educational qualification of a Malawi School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent must be introduced to the relevant constitutional provision on eligibility of a person to stand as a Member of Parliament in an election.
The commission also recommended the formal educational qualification of a first degree from a recognised institution in the case of the eligibility of a candidate to stand as a presidential candidate. As it happens, the commission’s recommendations have not been passed into law, 10 years and counting.
A minimum level of formal educational qualification is important for entry into our political system. A formal educational qualification, in my view, gives others a sneak peek— an assumption— of one’s level of competence and comprehension of issues. And indeed, whether they will be fit to fill an available position. It has been stated here before that the discharge of (political) public office must bear in mind the interests of the people of Malawi; their trust; and the requirement to uphold an open, accountable and transparent government. In recent years, a practice has emerged where parliamentary committees have been tasked with vetting ambassadorial appointments; inquiring into possible infractions by the Executive; conducting interviews to fill vacancies in such important offices as the Clerk of Parliament. Indeed, the full House of our Parliament vets such positions as the Chief Justice and the Inspector General of Police.
It makes a mockery of the system that an interviewer should be demanding the production of a formal educational qualification from an interviewee when it is possible that the interviewer has no formal educational qualification whatsoever. It is unfathomable that the serious business of Parliament must be left with folks who I cannot confidently assume their competence or comprehension of matters before them.
We now live in a highly technical global village. The reports and memoranda that flow from the offices of our technocrats in government are highly specialised and technical. A Member of Parliament who merely speaks and reads the English language well is not—surely—good enough. And when it comes to the Presidency: Well, all our four presidents have had formal educational qualifications. Woe the day when a president shall be elected who does not have a formal educational qualification and cannot speak and read the English language well enough. Remember, chingerezi is not a requirement to become a presidential candidate. In the 21st century, as a country, we must be demanding formal educational qualifications for assumption of political public office to—at very least—possibly enhance the quality of our political system. If we demand formal educational qualifications for our land clerks, what more with our politicians seeking public office.
* Chikosa is a lawyer and consultant at The Mizumali Foundation. He holds a PhD in Law from The University of Warwick in Coventry, England.