There is an open fight for supremacy at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, a situation that has led to cracks within its ranks and affecting the decentralisation process.
At the centre are lapses in communication procedures and personality clashes, which have recently culminated into some 16 district commissioners (DCs) petitioning President Joyce Banda over, among others, delayed promotions and alleged nepotism.
DCs blamed these on principal secretary II Stuart Ligomeka and director of local government services Kiswell Dakamau.
This week, Weekend Nation established that minister responsible, Grace Maseko, was forced to report on a breakdown in her ministry to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), which she squarely blamed on director of finance and administration, Christopher Makileni.
It was also established that Makileni and director of human resources Salim Sumaisi have been making unilateral decisions to the surprise of both the minister and principal secretary I, Kester Kaphaizi.
Weekend Nation also established during the week that both Makileni and Sumaisi attended the Friday, July 27 2012 meeting held at Nathenje agricultural offices where 16 DCs drafted a petition to the President.
Both the minister and Kaphaizi neither knew of the meeting nor were they told that the two directors from Local Government Ministry had been officially invited to the meeting.
In an interview on Tuesday, Maseko confirmed problems in her ministry which she attributed to â€œa few overzealous officers who think they can do anything on their own without following procedures.â€
Maseko said she is disappointed by the conduct of the two directors and the DCs, saying: â€œIf they needed political intervention, why didnâ€™t they come to me?â€
Makileni confirmed attending the meeting, saying: â€œI was invited to the meeting by the DCs in my official capacity as director of finance.â€
â€œThere was no way they could invite Ligomeka or Kaphaizi because they have lost confidence in them,â€ he claimed.
Asked why DCs did not channel their grievances to OPC if the ministry has failed, Makileni backed the DCs.
â€œThe whole system is not working. DCs have lost trust in the whole system, including OPC, that is why they decided to go straight to the President,â€ he claimed.
Maseko was shocked by this. â€œWhat? That is strange. Officers at Grade 5 to lose trust in the whole ministry and OPC?â€ she wondered.
Makileni insisted that Ligomeka, who they accuse of derailing the system, has been making several decisions by-passing the PS for a long time.â€
But Kaphaizi disagreed, saying: â€œI donâ€™t have any problems with Ligomeka. He has never made any official decision without consulting me.â€
â€œThe DCs are entitled to their opinion. Normally, if they have grievances, they should have channelled them through the ministry,â€ he added.
In separate interviews, some DCs said they invited the two directors to their meeting â€œbecause we believe they are the only ones who sympathise with our situation.â€
â€œTheir conduct has given us hope that they could sympathise with us,â€ said James Manyetera, the Dowa DC on interdiction following auditing queries in the district.
Asked why other DCs did not attend, Gift Lapozo of Luchenza Municipal Council, who chaired the meeting, claimed all knew about the gathering.
But other DCs, McLeod Kadammanja of Ntcheu, for example, said he got no invitation.
â€œBut I was not going to be there even if I were invited. I donâ€™t think the issue of delayed promotions can be blamed on the ministry, it should be OPC,â€ he reasoned.
To affirm that Makileni is working with the DCs in the whole saga, he returned to Nation offices in Lilongwe on Monday afternoon to present his responses in writing, surprisingly, in the company of DCs Felix Mkandawire of Chikhwawa and Manyetera.
They all spoke in unison that they will not falter until Ligomeka and Dakamau are removed.
â€œDonâ€™t back people who abuse others. We suspect you have been bribed to write this story,â€ said Makileni before Manyetera apologised to this journalist on his behalf.
DCs in their petition want President Banda to redeploy Ligomeka, for among other things, delaying their promotions.
They base their arguments on the 2004 Functional Review carried out by the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRM&D) that recommended the upgrading of DCs and other officers at district level from P5 to P4 and P3 grades.
Secretary for DHRM&D Sam Madula only said: â€œI thought these things have ended? I am surprised we still have special civil servants with special access where they can ask for the dismissal of fellow civil servants without following procedures and establishing facts. This is a case of pure ignorance.â€
The accused, Ligomeka, was brief in his response to our questions: â€œI am failing to understand why, irrespective of controlling officers being present during this period; everything is being heaped on me under the guise that I amassed power which they have no evidence of.â€
Former PS at the ministry George Mkondiwa said the delay in DCsâ€™ promotions could not be blamed on individual officers.
He pushed the blame to lack of political will to ensure that decentralisation was accomplished to allow the system to work.
â€œIn the civil service, people are rewarded according to their performance. The officers they are accusing were put in those positions based on their quality of work,â€ he said.
But Mkondiwa warned that the differences at the ministry and the slow pace at which the decentralisation process is being implemented could have adverse effects at local level.
â€œDCs are a very important component to local development. Decentralisation, therefore, needs to be taken seriously and central government should loosen its grip on councils,â€ he said.
Reasons for delay in promotions
Weekend Nation established this week that among major reasons for the delays and resultant finger-pointing, is that the late president Bingu wa Mutharika refused to appoint new commissioners for the Local Government Service Commission (Lascom) and ordered its dissolution, according to an OPC source.
Lascom was established to oversee human resources requirements of all councils, but for some time, the commission has been dormant without commissioners.
On this, Kaphaizi said: â€œWe tried at some point to go through the Civil Service Commission, but the Chief Secretary said that would be illegal because Lascom is a constitutional body.â€
OPC endorsed the Functional Review in 2005 as evidenced by a letter reference number DHRMD/MSD/LG/002/108 dated 22 September 2005 that we have seen.
All these delays have raised temperatures at the ministry with Makileni seen as taking matters in his own hands to push through this agenda with some DCs cheering him on. Some say he has gone too far.
Among other things, Makileni surprised Local Government PS I, Kaphaizi and the minister when he single-handedly ordered the arrest of Lilongwe chief executive officer Kelvin Mmangisa accused of pocketing illegal allowances.
Kaphaizi confirmed on Monday that he only heard of the news in the media.
â€œI even talked to Mr. Makileni and he accepted that he would have done things better,â€ said Kaphaizi.
But Makileni was not remorseful in an interview for the matter. He thinks he need not inform anyone as director of finance, saying both principal secretaries were aware, but have been delaying the matter.
â€œOn whether the minister was informed before reporting to police, my answer is that this was not a political matter. There was no need to seek approvals from anybody as long as I was convincedâ€¦.â€ he said in a written response.
But Kaphaizi was surprised.
â€œSo the only solution was the arrest? I didnâ€™t know. As far as I know, these things were being discussed to find the best way forward,â€ he said.
The arrest came after Sumaisi had written Mmangisa to refund allowances the ministry alleged were outside the Lilongwe bossâ€™ contract.
Sumaisi, on the other hand, also surprised his bosses when he unilaterally reinstated an officer interdicted for alleged fraud at the Lilongwe City Council.
Dyson Milanzi was interdicted by Mmangisa just weeks before his arrest.
â€œWe noticed that the officer was reinstated unprocedurally, that is why we intervened and he is back on interdiction,â€ confirmed Kaphaizi.
All these and others are also part of a complaint Minister Maseko and her deputy Augustine Mtendere lodged with OPC on Tuesday July 31 2012, according to sources.
The minister also reported to Chief Secretary Bright Msaka that Makileni challenged her openly when she addressed her officials on the need to follow procedures before communicating any information from the ministry.
Makileni denied this in an interview on Monday.
But Maseko did not want to discuss the matter on Tuesday, but insisted that government is a systematic machinery â€œwhere issues are handled in a structured way not by individuals.â€
â€œIn a ministry, a PS is a controlling officer, but we have overzealous officers who believe they have a duty to carry without following procedures,â€ she said.
On Friday, sources said OPC has since written the President on the matter requesting that Makileni be redeployed.
The letter went to State House before the DCs petition asking for the redeployment of Ligomeka and Dakamau.
Msaka refused to comment of the matter saying Local Government PS was well placed to discuss the issue.
State House press secretary Steve Nhlane is yet to respond to our questionnaire.