After dancing around the issue for almost two months, President Joyce Banda has finally made a decision: She will not take seriously the Parliamentary Service Commissionâ€™s (PSC) recommendation to fire Matilda Katopola as Clerk of Parliament (CoP). Mrs Banda must be congratulated for making a decision on a controversial issue without a commission of enquiry. This is no mean achievement on her part given how reliant she is on these safe decisions made by others and announced by her.
Of course, I know that from what has been published, the only reason Katopola has survived is because procedures leading to the recommendation were not followed. The other factor was the cost of sacking a CoP who is not disabled, has not been declared bankrupt, was never accused of neglecting her duties or caught up in any misconduct other than the Monick Trends issue on which she was cleared.
As The Nationâ€™s exclusive story a few weeks ago calculated, Katopola could walk away with K900 million on grounds that she was unfairly removed from office. However, it is easy to deduce by any right-thinking member of society generally that it will not be long before Katopola is booted out of the National Assembly, kicking and screaming. This administration just doesnâ€™t want her.
The other matter is that given the toxic working environment within the Parliament Secretariat, Capital Hill and State House this controversy has created, will the CoP execute her duties freely and effectively or she will be spending most of her time watching her back?
The National Assembly needs a CoP who has the complete confidence of the two branches of government, the Executive and Parliament. At the moment, these two arms have messed their bed big time and must lie in it without expecting anyone to make it for them. I donâ€™t care how they do it as long as it is within the law. Meanwhile, let them sweat.
That said, there are two fundamental issues that have to be looked at. The first is the conduct of Vice-President Khumbo Kachali and the Chief Secretary to the Government Bright Msaka, who pressurised PSC chairperson Henry Chimunthu Banda to remove Katopola from office.
How will Madam President deal with the duo that should have known better, but instead proceeded to victimise a public servant, embarrassed the Head of State and tarnished the image of her government and the country as being intolerant?
In fact, Msaka, as the technical head of the civil service, is the custodian of all government procedures, rules and regulations. He should not be allowed to be used by politicians instead of leading by example to defend the sacred rules of engagement in the public service.
For that reason alone, Msaka, a man I have respected and admired for a long time, must resign because he has set a bad example. I donâ€™t know what happened to the apolitical Msaka that I once looked up to.
As for Kachali, the institution of the vice-presidency is not a kindergarten in which to play childish political games. He must rise above the silliness that comes with tit-for-tat politics. The President must strongly censure him.
But the President is not very clean herself on this issue. Where was she when her naughty number two and her down-on-his luck chief technocrat were messing things up? All this happened on her watch; or did she leave her post to attend mundane events?
As for Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda, I am not sure it is worth expending my energy and words on such a feckless leader of the second most important institution on the land who also happens to be third in the government line of power. But I must say something.
Chimunthu Banda claims he was pressured by Kachali and Msaka to get rid of Katopola. He meekly did their bidding, recommending to the President to remove her from office without any reasons. Why did he not tell the two troublemakers to go jump into Shire River? Was he afraid the duo would orchestrate his own removal as Speaker? Is honour and integrity that cheap these days; that someone can force you to do something you know is wrong and you proceed to do so? Look how the calculating President has turned the tables on the Speaker. On paper, it is Chimunthu and the PSC he chairs that recommended Katopolaâ€™s removal to the President. The Head of State has thrown out that recommendation and all the rotten eggs are all over the Speakerâ€™s face.
How will he work with the CoP he threw under the bus to keep his comfy chair at Parliament? It is obvious here that there will always be bad blood between the political head and the technical leader at the Nation Assembly. One of the two must leave that building. And since Katopola has been reinstated, it can only be Chimunthu Banda who now must go. It will be a sad chapter in a fairly successful political career. But it must be done in the public interest. I hope he will enjoy being a backbencher after lording over his colleagues in Parliament for almost four years.