During the maiden Face the Nation on Monday, Attorney General Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda restated his objection to officers being paid their salaries while they are interdicted.
His argument is premised, among others, on no-work-no-pay principles and Regulation 40(1)(a) of the Malawi Public Service Regulations (MPRS) which precludes pay for interdicted officers, who pillage public resources, until their cases are disposed of.
In a passionate plea to the nation, Nyirenda stated that the action hardly means the officers are guilty and “…the law deliberately provides that once they are exonerated, they are put back on payroll.”
The practice is inhumane, open to abuse and, as other lawyers have observed, illegal.
It makes a mockery of the principle of presumption of innocence and it makes the government no different from mobs which lynch people suspected of committing crimes.
In 2014, for instance, I travelled to Dowa where I met a civil servant who had been interdicted for almost 15 years. He had knocked on several doors to have his case heard so he could move on with his life, but at every turn, he was met with the same indifference from public officers, who would push him from one office to another.
He was neither taken to court nor did he face a disciplinary hearing. He was just abandoned without any support. He only survived on hope.
He was made to pay for a toxic concoction of incompetence and indifference of the public service.
It is inconsequential if the government paid him his salary once he has been cleared. The loss he has incurred is incalculable.
So what do you say to an officer who has been exonerated, huh?
“Sorry, we messed up; we shouldn’t have punished you all these years. Here’s your cheque. Go celebrate and sin no more!”
But the officer will have missed out on more than paycheques. There will be promotions he may have missed. Back pay will not pay for that.
There will be missed opportunities for further education. That cheque, no matter how fat it is, won’t compensate for that.
Children will have been pulled out of school because the officer could not afford their fees; lives may have been needlessly lost because the officer could not afford proper healthcare; he will probably have been kicked out of his rented house and possibly living on the street because the landlord’s patience had worn thin with his endless excuses. He will be lucky to eat a decent meal.
The government punishes its officers before they are due for the punishment; all because it fails to expeditiously dispose of disciplinary cases.
If only the government expedited cases for interdicted officers, few would fault its stand to withhold pay.
The government takes its time to dispose of cases, which sometimes resolve themselves by the death of an interdicted officer such as former police officer Innocent Botomani.
The MPRS is not cast in stone and it should not be an excuse. It can be amended and it should.
The government cannot preach human rights and then be the first to trample on them.
Paying interdicted officers—even half pay to keep body and soul together—will not mean they are gaining from their mischief (which is just an allegation at this point until proven otherwise), but the government will have done the most humane thing possible.
If the government insists on the MPRS, it should create timeframes in which cases must be disposed of and make an obligation on government’s ministries, departments and agencies to conclude them within that period.
A case not concluded within the timeframe must fall off or the head of the government institution held to account.
In his words, Nyirenda said “the law must be able to solve socio-economic problems and not creating them”. However, I doubt that denying interdicted officers their pay solves socio-economic problems, does it?