The High Court Blantyre Registry has ordered leave for judicial review in a case where former Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) executive director Gerald Chiunda and five others are challenging their suspension.
The others are the examinations body’s director of examinations administration Gerson Mutala Phiri, acting director of corporate services Christopher Neba, chief examinations development officer Ishmail Fake, chief examinations security officer Joseph Chilombe and assistant examinations security officer Mike Bandawe.
The court has also restrained Maneb board from exercising its functions under Section 9 of the Maneb Act, including making resolutions affecting employment contracts of the six until the hearing and determination of the matter.
Lawyer for the six, Chancy Gondwe, confirmed the review, saying there are a number of decisions the board made which they want the court to clarify.
In his statement of facts, the lawyer argued that the board’s decisions on Chiunda and the others are illegal as the law stipulates that it (the board) should have 31 members and not the current 14.
States Gondwe: “Except for the board chairperson and Principal Secretary for [the Ministry of] Education, all members were supposed to be appointed by the minister and not the President. The constitution and composition of the board is irregular and illegal, as such, it is incapable of transacting competent business as per the Maneb Act. This illegally constituted board cannot perform functions assigned to it under Section 9 of the Maneb Act.”
On November 4 2020, Maneb and Education Minister Agnes NyaLonje announced the cancellation of the 2020 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations due to widespread leakage of examination papers and the board instituted preliminary investigations.
On November 6 2020, the board held an emergency meeting which looked at the report on the examinations leakage. The meeting also resolved to suspend Chiunda pending investigations.
Maneb board vice-chairperson Edith Mmela wrote Chiunda on November 11 2020 that upon conclusion of the investigations, the board shall give the executive director an opportunity to be heard on the matter.
Reads the letter further: “The board shall communicate this in writing. You are reminded that during the period of suspension, you are still employed by the board which expects you to cooperate with it in this matter and that the terms and conditions of service of the board shall continue to apply in regulating your relationship with the board.”
According to the court documents, Chiunda was suspended based on seven counts which are: failing to ensure sufficient security at Maneb for the 2020 MSCE examinations, allowing an environment where examination leakage could take place and failing to ensure that sufficient or any numbers of police officers were available to offer security.
Other counts are failing to ensure that electronic means of security were functioning at all times, failing to ensure that proper custody of keys to storage rooms was maintained, failing to implement recommendations of the chairperson of the security committee regarding security of examinations and poorly administering and conducting the 2020 MSCE examinations.
The court case was originally filed in the High Court (Zomba Registry) but has since been moved to Justice Jack N’riva in the Blantyre Registry after several judges recused themselves, citing conflict of interest.
According to judicial review cause number 1 of 2021 on the transfer of the case, signed by Justice Zione Ntaba on January 6 2020, the case was originally assigned to Justice Violet Chipao, who requested that the matter be reassigned due to conflict of interest. It was then reassigned to Justice Texious Masoamphambe, who also recused himself due to conflict of interest.
Then it went to Ntaba as judge in-charge of the Zomba Registry, who also recused herself due to conflict of interest. A fourth reassignment to Justice Mzondi Mvula did not take place as he was attending training for three weeks. As such, the case was referred to Blantyre.
Last week, Maneb board chairperson Alfred Mtenje and acting executive director Dorothy Nampota presented a preliminary police report to the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Technology in which they stated that some disgruntled staff may have disabled security cameras which could have captured critical information on probable culprits who leaked the 2020 MSCE examinations.