Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) has questioned the timing of government’s announcement that it has abolished the quota system, saying it could be to win votes in the forthcoming fresh presidential election.
Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe said in an interview on Tuesday the body was sceptical of government’s abolition of the quota system of selecting students to public universities and the re-introduction Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) examination at a time Malawians are approaching fresh elections scheduled for May 19 this year.
He was commenting on Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani’s reaction to Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s claim that government’s abolition of quota system was deceptive, considering that it is Chilima’s UTM Party that has been championing the move when government was against it.
Kondowe said: “When it comes to equitable system of admitting students to universities, it becomes a challenge when one region is not developed and where you do not have a representative Cabinet. It can’t work when there is no representation of senior civil servants in government from all regions.”
“The central question that needs to be asked is: Has that been done in good faith? Government should avoid the scenario of implementing the quota system silently. It is possible that they can have an arrangement internally to make one region be seen as a star performer. The timing is so sceptical.”
The education rights activist also blamed government for not being transparent and accountable in the maintenance of quota system which he described as a flop.
He contended that for government to be seen as introducing the policy changes in good faith, it should consider gazzeting the pronouncement.
Said Kondowe: “We raised all these issues so my advice is that government should not have monopoly on knowledge. And we should not be piloting things that cannot be piloted because the time we make a simple mistake, that will have potential to multiply.”
But in a separate interview, Botomani brushed off the idea, saying quota system is an administrative policy and not a public one and, therefore, does not need to be gazetted.
The minister, in a statement issued Monday, also took a swipe at Chilima for the quota system remarks he pronounced at a rally in Mzuzu on Sunday.
Chilima said at the rally government is stealing ideas from his UTM Party’s manifesto, particularly on the controversial quota system where he has clearly stated that the policy shall be abolished if he is elected State president.
He described government’s decision to abolish the quota system as “deceptive”, saying only his UTM Party has been speaking against the system and that government has done that to woo support from Northerners as Malawi prepares for a fresh presidential election.
But Botomani argued that the announcement—made by Minister of Education, Science Technology William Susuwele Banda last Thursday at Capital Hill—followed thorough consultations and research conducted to establish advantages and disadvantages of the system.
Reads Botomani’s statement: “Government would like to remind Dr Chilima and the UTM Party that quota system was a national policy and not a regional policy. Finally, government would like to remind all Malawians that in public service, policy changes are not campaign tools as suggested by Dr Chilima and UTM Party.
“If the policy changes were that easy to make and indeed political, then they would have been pronounced at a political rally prior to May 2019 elections. It is also important to understand that the possibility of a fresh presidential election does not mean that government business has come to a halt.”
In reaction to the statement, Chilima’s spokesperson Pilirani Phiri said Malawians already know the position of Chilima, who paired Mutharika during the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, has on the system which critics felt was not representative of the country’s three regions.
“Everyone in this country, including you, knows that Dr. Chilima talks quota system from the heart. So there is no further comment on that. Thank you,” he said briefly.
According to Kondowe, in one of its deliberations held in 2008, the University of Malawi Council acknowledged that quota system was divisive and that it was introduced without empirical evidence. Since then, it had never been resolved.
Government officials, including the Ministry of Education Science and Technology Principal Secretary Justin Saidi, have been touting quota system as the best method for selecting students into institutions of higher learning. Various stakeholders such as the Livingstonia Synod, Youth and Society and Human Rights Defenders Coalition, opposition political parties such as Malawi Congress Party and the Anti-Quota Movement have been criticising the system, saying it has been leaving some deserving learners out of the public university system; hence, calls for its abolishment.