One of the most laughable things I have heard this week is the statement from the Minister of Education, Science and Technology Dr Emmanuel Fabiano that resolving the dispute over the closure of Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and not Education.
Fabiano told Parliament on Tuesday that the issue about Chancellor College was labour-related and therefore the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development was better placed to give an update. He was responding to a question from member of Parliament for Dowa Ngala Dr Elias Chakwera who stood on Matters of Urgent Public Importance and asked the Minister of Education what his ministry was doing about the closure of the college following a staff strike which has left the institution closed since March this year. In his wisdom, all that Fabiano could volunteer as a response was: “the current dispute at Chanco is a labour dispute. And the Ministry of Labour should be the one to respond on the issue. The issue is about equal pay for the same job. All the four colleges [under Unima—Chanco, The Polytechnic, College of Medicine and Kamuzu College of Nursing] were closed. But the three have now been opened. It is now only Chanco left. We believe that sooner [rather than later] the college will be opened.”
Naturally, this attracted an avalanche of criticism from opposition members of Parliament. I am sure even Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members must have been angered by this statement by their colleague but could only not rise to censure Fabiano because they did not want to break party protocol.
Now, Fabiano’s response is to say the least pathetic. Here is a whole Cabinet minister who thinks the best way to respond to a national tragedy that his ministry is expect to resolve is to push it to another ministry. What else can the nation expect from such a minister? This is literally sleeping on the job. Rather than regret the continued closure of the college and explain what steps have been taken to resolve the crisis, the minister savagely chooses to add salt on a festering wound. Students and parents are angry with the continued closure of the college. The minister should have been the first to show concern by diplomatically reassuring the nation that the matter is receiving the attention it deserves. The MPs who admonished the minister over his uncaring and demeaning response were very right to do so.
Whether the issue about the college’s closure is labour-related or not, what is at stake here is education. And he, Fabiano, presides over the parent ministry for all matters to do with education in the country. It would have been a different thing altogether if the closed institution was a technical college offering vocational training, but not a constituent college of the University of Malawi. The Ministry of Education does not have a whole department—previously headed by a Principal Secretary—for Higher Education for nothing. At the minimum, all that Fabiano should have said if he has been too busy gallivanting or had no idea about how to handle the matter was to ensure his officers in the Department of Higher Education, are on the issue. The least people were expecting is his laissez-faire attitude on such a crucial matter requiring serious attention.
For all his experience and learning, having served in various capacities in the University of Malawi, Fabiano should not have been giving the nation such crap. In fact, Fabiano should have taken the cue from the statement by the Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera who had earlier called on the presidency to move with speed to resolve the matter.
This is because at the end of the day, it is the President of this country who takes the blame when his ministers perform below par. Some would say Fabiano akutidyesa galu (He is feeding us dog meat).