Grace Malera says she brings to the table of the Ombudsman her 19 years wealth of relevant experience in the governance sector as well as the requisite qualifications and skills set.
Having undergone a competitive process, she is humbled that those entrusted with the selection process settled for her as the most suitable candidate for the role among other equally capable colleagues.
She said: “I believe all these are critical enablers to maintain high professional standards as I discharge my work in a non-partisan, independent and diligent manner. It is my hope and prayer that I can continue to harness the strides that have been made over the years and ensure that the office of the Ombudsman remains relevant in the lives of Malawians.”
Grace admits that the office continues to be one of the significant players in safeguarding the rule of law and good governance in Malawi, in line with the constitutional mandate of the office.
Three months after the Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament approved her name; Grace still recalls how it felt like:
“It was mixed reactions. For a moment, I was speechless, especially since the media had gone ahead of official communication channels in breaking the news of my appointment. It took a bit of time for the reality to sink in, a moment where one asks oneself the ‘what have I just gotten myself into?’ For me, this was followed with self-reassurance thoughts, literally kudzilimbitsa mtima, that the job ahead of me was/is doable. Of course, ultimately, I was filled with a profound sense of gratitude to God for according me the grace to be Ombudsman of Malawi at this time. This certainly is an appointment that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will hear about,” she beams.
Her predecessor Martha Chizuma, now Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general and first woman Ombusdman has quite a record having courageously and fearlessly treaded in difficult waters.
But Grace doesn’t feel pressured to achieve beyond Chizuma because no two people are ever alike.
She adds that contexts and circumstances always differ, but will look at the legacy left by her predecessor and other previous holders of the office as a critical spring board for building on what has been achieved over the years.
The Ombudsman begun her career as an ACB’s prosecutions officer in 2002.
From 2003 to 2016, she worked for the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) initially as principal legal officer, rising through the ranks to become deputy director of legal services, director of legal services and finally to executive secretary of the commission.
From 2017 to 2019, Grace worked as Action Aid Malawi International executive director. She also worked as team leader for the UKaid-funded Violence Against Women and Girls – Prevention and Response Programme from 2019 to 2021.
She also had a four months Research Fellowship Placement at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Denmark in 2005 and served on two Special Law Commissions of the Malawi Law Commission, one on the Development of the Law on Trafficking in Persons and the other on the Electoral Law Reforms.
“I have been purposeful in investing in and developing my knowledge and skills set in the governance sector, with a particular focus on a diversity of areas such as human rights, access to justice, gender, sexual and reproductive health rights.
“I have also been deliberate about diversifying my career exploits and using my qualifications and skills to work in areas that are not traditionally considered as a lawyer’s field such as ActionAid Malawi. In all this, of course, one would have to demonstrate to prospective employees that they have a specific game plan/ideas for high standard performance in line with what the organisation stands for and that they have got what it takes to deliver,” adds the lawyer.
One such expertise came on display while working at MHRC where they achieved great milestones such as carrying out a number of critical and strategic investigations on cases of human rights violations.
She cites the July 20 2011 demonstrations-related violence and killings which ensured the push for respective accountability processes.
Grace and her team also re-accreddited MHRC as an “A” status institution by the Global Alliance for the National Human Rights Institutions.
This made the commission fully complaint with the United Nations Paris Principles on National Human Rights Institutions.
“We also carried out a number of key strategic public interest litigation in the courts, an outstanding case that I litigated being the David Banda adoption case which contributed to developing the ‘Best Interest of the Child’ principle in as far as Malawi’s jurisprudence is concerned,” she adds.
And Grace says her work has essentially centred on the empowerment of women and
girls, socially, economically and legally.
She has consistently wor ked on gender transformative programming interventions, as well as human rights-based approaches to programming.
In Action Aid, Grace worked alongside the consortium that was engaged to run the 50-50 Campaign Programme for increased representation of women in politics.
She was part of a team that set up and successfully implemented the UKAID-funded Tithetse Nkhanza Programme.
Some of its key milestones include implementing a Survivors Support Fund which supported women and girls subjected to violence.
A l s o , a S t r a t e g i c Opportunities Fund was established which supported high impact activities.
She adds: “Through my service as a member of two special law commissions, a progressive law on anti-trafficking in persons was developed. Further, some key pieces of electoral laws have since been reviewed. I was also honoured to be associated with the presidential debates ahead of the 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections as moderator.”
And is the Ombusdman finally ‘the one’ that will settle her Grace down professionally?
She never knows what the future holds and where destiny shall take her.
The longest she has ever stayed in one institution is 14 years and the Ombusdman is unsure this is a record she could ever beat as: “I continue to navigate my career path, especially when the age factor is brought into the equation. However, by the grace of God, I should be able to run the entire course of the contract for my present job and so yes, stay long on this particular job.”
Born on May 8 1978 to Dr. Willie Lipato and Rosalia-Janet, Grace is mother to three children, a feminist and Catholic faithful.
She is driven and passionate about working with the law as a tool for achieving equality, social justice, equity and good governance.
Grace is also driven by the desire to use the law as a means of protecting the weak from the strong, a means of giving voice to the voiceless and as an accountability tool.
She brags: “I am not afraid to think and dream big. I was raised by a father and mother who inculcated a ‘go for it’ spirit in me and my sisters. And so my ambitions are to reach as far as the sky and beyond, to always apply myself fully on any task set for me, as though my entire life depended on it. Most importantly, I have a deep sense of conviction that I can be more than I could ever be, because as per my name, God’s grace is ever sufficient.”
To the girls who may have received the news of her appointment as Malawi’s next Ombudsman with that feeling of: “I hope that will be me some day”, she assures them that the world is full of opportunities.
All one has to do is work on themselves, excel in one’s respective field of study, aim high, set goals and be intentional about working towards achieving the goals.
Grace concludes with one of her favourite quotes from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts