Macra board chairperson Martha Kwataine has denied President Joyce Banda’s assertion that government renewed director general Charles Nsaliwa’s contract following a letter the board wrote to government recommending the rehiring.
Answering a question from a caller during a live interview on Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) on December 31 2012, Banda said the board chair wrote the letter, which formed the basis for Information and Civic Education Minister Moses Kunkuyu’s nod to rehire Nsaliwa.
The recruitment controversy at Macra was exposed in The Nation exclusive story of last Friday which revealed that Kunkuyu took short cuts in pushing for Nsaliwa’s contract by ignoring prevailing government policy.
Governance experts and policy watchdogs condemned government’s manoeuvres and declared null and void Nsaliwa’s reappointment to continue heading a powerful institution that controls the country’s communication architecture, including public opinion shaping broadcast media.
Said the President on ZBS: “I asked the minister what the [Communications] Act says. He told me that the Act allows the incumbent director general to apply for a renewal of the contract to the minister and he wrote. The board met and approved. The board chairperson wrote an approval letter”.
Macra board did not approve
But in an interview on Wednesday this week, Kwataine tore apart Banda’s version of events—an unusually brave move from someone who sits in the Macra boardroom at the President’s pleasure.
She said the board did not ask for such special consideration and denied writing government recommending Nsaliwa’s contract renewal as the President claimed.
“I must admit I do not know what to say about her [President Banda] because the policy is clear and it is housed within Statutory Corporations, a department within OPC [the Office of the President and Cabinet] whose minister is herself….But if this is how the President has decided to govern the country, it is for the nation to judge.”
She said the President’s handling of the matter and the inconsistent application of policy “speaks volumes about the type of advice she is getting from various circles.”
But on Thursday, Kunkuyu volunteered to Weekend Nation documents, including a Macra board Resolution Number EX/1/08/01 that shows that the board, during its extraordinary meeting held on September 14 2012 at Sunbird Kuchawe in Zomba, agreed to recommend to government that Nsaliwa’s contract be renewed.
The resolution reads in part: “Where as members further agreed that in view of the positive assessment of 86 percent [Nsaliwa’s performance rating], the renewal of contract should be favourably considered and the board chair should write to government to recommend that the contract be considered for renewal, but the letter should also provide a summary of all the key observations, including government policy guidance regarding recruitment of heads of statutory corporations as critical background information towards the recommendation.”
The resolutions are signed by Kwataine and another Macra board member, Dr. Asiyati Lorrain Chiweza. Kwataine said she never wrote the letter recommending renewal.
Instead, Weekend Nation has seen a letter that Kwataine wrote to comptroller of Statutory Corporations Nwazi Mnthambala on October 18 2012, advising that the board’s position is that the post be advertised.
Kwataine’s letter reads in part: “As per our telephone conversation, I write to affirm that the position of the Macra board regarding the contract of the director general is that the post should be advertised and the DG [director general] should apply and compete with other applicants. This is in tandem with the current government policy for all chief executives for institutions under Statutory Corporations which stipulates that, upon completion of one’s contract term regardless of good or poor performance, the position must be advertised.”
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mnthambala confirmed receiving Kwataine’s letter.
In a follow-up interview on Thursday, Kwataine noted that Macra reports to the comptroller of Statutory Corporations administratively whereas technically, it reports to the Ministry of Information and Civic Education.
Therefore, she said, the issue of contract renewal is administrative in nature; hence, her dealing with the office of the comptroller of Statutory Corporations.
Kwataine also said just when the comptroller was about to send her the advert, the board received communication from the Minister of Information and Civic Education to the effect that government had decided to renew Nsaliwa’s contract.
It was on December 11 2012 when Secretary for Information and Civic Education Anthony Livuza wrote the Macra board chairperson, informing her of government’s approval of Nsaliwa’s contract.
Reads the letter: “I am pleased to inform you that government has approved the renewal of the contract for [Nsaliwa] for a term of the next three years [See attached approval from Her Excellency, the State President]. All formalities related to the renewed contract will be communicated to you by the comptroller of Statutory Corporations.”
The copy of the aborted advert we have seen has 18 duties and responsibilities for the successful DG whose qualifications should be a minimum of a Master’s degree in Engineering or Telecommunications or any ICT-related field.
Those with a Master’s in Business Administration or similar academic achievements should at least have a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering or Telecommunications or any ICT-related field; economics or law and at least 10 years of professional experience in the ICT industry, five years of which must have been at senior management level.
Said Kwataine: “My view is that the minister is ill-advising the President and hijacking the board, which is retrogressive. If this is how parastatals are supposed to work in Malawi, then what is the role of the board? As a board, we have representatives from statutory corporations as co-opted members during our meetings so that they advise the board on government policy. The board was reminded of the prevailing policy by deputy comptroller of Statutory Corporations.
“The policy guidance came from Department of Statutory Corporations within OPC whose minister is the President. The act of Honourable Kunkuyu is tantamount to undermining the Office of the President and Cabinet….The Honourable Minister must acknowledge that procedures have not been followed and he should own up to his mistake so that we rectify that as soon as we can.”
Apparently, Kwataine’s letter to the comptroller went earlier than the one that the statutory corporations comptroller wrote to the Macra board on November 19, advising that the filling of the top vacancy at Macra should follow an August 2005 policy directive that demands advertising the positions of chief executive officers and their deputies at the expiry of their contracts.
In last week’s interview, Kwataine told The Nation that the board passed on the advice to the Minister of Information who, nonetheless, proceeded to recommend to the President that Nsaliwa be reappointed.
The President endorsed the recommendation from Kunkuyu who in turn instructed the Macra board to formally write Nsaliwa of his contract renewal.
In a letter to the President we have seen, Kunkuyu justified Nsaliwa’s appointment, saying although the board was advised to stick to the government policy, the board asked for special consideration for Nsaliwa, which Kwataine has said is false.
An unhappy Kwataine said on Thursday this week: “What I do not like is the idea of the minister [putting] words in the mouth of the board and using that to misinform the President. The board is clean on this issue and there is no question about it.”
She said the board has no personal grudges against Nsaliwa, but Macra, as a public institution, must operate within the prescribed policy framework.
“As far as we are concerned, as a board, we did a thorough job. This is a board that has professionals well conversant with good principles of corporate governance and there is no way we can advise government to do things contrary to its own prevailing policy. We do not want to set a wrong precedent lest posterity judge us wrongly. Maybe the President has her own reasons for backing the selective application of policy regarding renewal of contracts of CEO for parastatals. As a board, I insist that our hands are clean,” said Kwataine.