The Malawi Editors Forum (Maef) has condemned government for threats to Grace Kapatuka and Arthur Chipenda who are both working in civil service.
Maef in a statement issued today signed by chairperson Clifton Kawanga and its secretary general Gracian Tukula says it is disturbed by recent developments that threaten the freedom and, to some extent, tenure of journalists working in the civil service.
“Maef considers very innocent on the ongoing debate regarding how government disposed of the presidential jet on a Misa Malawi discussion group, Ms Grace Kapatuka, who works for the government-owned Boma Lathu newspaper, was cautioned by State House, which openly said it did not expect such a remark from a civil servant.
Maef views this is as a threat to freedom of expression and abuse of power and authority.
“It is a threat to freedom of expression because the journalist made the remark, which Maef insists was not offensive in the first place, in her personal capacity and on a private forum for journalists. It is dangerous, in our view, for government to limit the freedom of its employees generally and, particularly, in their private lives,” reads the statement in part.
Maef also views the caution as abuse of power and authority because civil servants owe their allegiance to the State and not to the President personally or the party in power.
“In that regard, they should be expected, even encouraged, to hold own views as individuals on any matter, even if such views contradict the current thinking of those in power. Indeed, only a multiplicity of views can add value to the decision-making process in government. To suggest that civil servants ought to think in a certain way is not only unrealistic, but also undemocratic,” said Maef.
Commenting on Chipenda, Maef said during the press conference called to explain how the presidential jet was disposed of, the Chief Secretary to the Government openly disassociated the Office of the President and Cabinet from the statement released by her office’s public relations officer Arthur Chipenda. Without necessarily backing Chipenda, Maef believes it was wrong for the Chief Secretary to publicly embarrass Chipenda in that manner.
Reads Maef statement: “As head of that office, the Chief Secretary must take responsibility for whatever happens in that office while taking necessary and appropriate disciplinary action internally if there is any wrongdoing on the part of its members of staff. One would have expected the OPC to set the record straight sooner once the statement from Mr Chipenda went public; otherwise it is tempting to suspect that Mr Chipenda is being hung to dry as a sacrificial lamb in government’s desperate attempt to save its face.
Maef says it will be watching closely developments regarding the job security of the concerned journalists and all their colleagues in the public service adding: “We would also like to repeat our belief that civil servants owe their allegiance to the State and the public they serve. Politicians that have the privilege to run state affairs at any given time have no right nor mandate to hold government employees prisoners to a particular way of thinking, especially in their private lives. It would also be immoral t