Taxpayers are paying the price for President Peter Mutharika’s recourse to his prerogative to willy-nilly hire and fire senior government officials, Nation on Sunday has established.
The development has seen three people simultaneously receiving salaries for Army Commanders and two others earning Chief Secretary perks before their contracts had run out.
A few days ago, Mutharika dismissed Malawi Defence Force (MDF) Commander Vincent Nundwe and his deputy Clement Namangale and replaced them with Andrew Lapken Namathanga as the new Commander and Davis Sesatino Mtachi as his deputy.
A statement signed by Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara indicated that Nundwe and Namangale would be deployed to other duties. But while the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) is yet to respond to our questionnaire, the two according to sources are yet to be assigned new roles.
Nundwe is the fourth MDF commander to be dismissed under President Mutharika’s five-year rule. Others are Henry Odillo, Ignacio Maulana and Griffin-Supuni Phiri. Odillo is out of service and this brings the number to three of people who will be receiving a salary on the position of Army Commander.
Taxpayers will also be paying two people on the position of deputy MDF commander—the out-going one Namangale and the new one Mtachi.
In June 2014, barely a month after assuming office, Mutharika fired Odillo and appointed Ignancio Maulana and Supuni-Phiri to the positions of commander and deputy commander respectively.
Maulana only lasted for about two years as he was replaced by his deputy – Supuni Phiri, who was dismissed last year to pave the way for Nundwe.
Maulana currently heads the security section of the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and in a telephone interview on Friday, he confirmed that he is still receiving a salary on the scale of MDF Commander.
He said: “Nothing has changed. I am receiving my benefits just like I used to when I was MDF Commander. What has changed is the job, but I am still on government payroll and I guess I will be until when I retire.”
A source at NFRA confided in Nation on Sunday that Maulana has no job description and usually has nothing to do at the office. “I doubt he enjoys his job. I feel for him.”
Asked to confirm if indeed he has no job, Maulana declined to comment on the matter.
Griffin Supuni Phiri also confirmed that he is still on government payroll and he has two years left on his contract.
A former senior officer in the military who refused to leadership in MDF is a cause for worry as it deprives the institution of key experienced personnel.be named, said quick changes of
The retired officer said MDF has always been professional but such quick politically-motivated appointments have the potential to destabilise the security organ.
“When you reach that top level, it means you have the experience and expertise. Think of the government investment in such a person they appoint commander, in terms of training and exposure. Such experience would benefit the defence force. I do not think such expertise should be wasted elsewhere.
“A whole MDF commander reduced to some head of security? We need to begin to be serious as country,” said the source.
Mzuzu University security studies lecturer Eugenio Njoloma also considers the quick changes of leadership in the military as politically-motivated, something that can affect the performance of the institution.
“What the President has done creates a bad precedence in that anyone who gets appointed realises that he may not last. This has a danger of killing the spirit of patriotism and consequently creates a spirit of patrimonialism in the Generals so as to safeguard their position.
“In the end, it is the appointing authority’s interests that prevail over national interests,” he said.
Njoloma proposes that the only way out is to have security of tenure of office for the Generals and he believes this can enhance independence and efficiency of MDF.
A consultative report from the Commission on Public Service Reforms recommended that government should find a way of securing tenure of office for MDF commanders to avoid regime-based changes.
One proposal from the report is to tie the commander’s tenure to the President’s term of office. The commission did not adopt this suggestion on grounds that it will legitimise politicisation of the office of Commander of MDF where individuals will be appointed based on the liking of the regime.
Political scientist at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College Happy Kayuni said promoting people through competitive process would have been workable.
“The challenge [of the proposal] would be; it will bring anxiety and uncertainty among officers that once the regime changes, they will be replaced with others.
“What is workable is to have people promoted through a competitive process and have their tenure secured regardless of regime. If promotion is regime- based, we will eventually politicise the public service,” he said.
But Presidential Press Secretary Mgeme Kalirani, in a written response, could not see a problem in the quick changes taking place in MDF, saying the intention is to tap from new skills.
“All appointments the President makes are meant to serve the people of Malawi better. The President’s administration to tap and benefit from new management skills the new appointees’ possess for the betterment of the respective institutions” he said.appointments also enable the
MDF Commander is at a position of Principal Secretary (PSs), so having three people receiving perks as MDF commanders adds to the increase in number of those on the rank of PSs.
This is a contradiction with Mutharika’s own initiated public service reform agenda which targeted to reduce the number of PSs and non-essential portfolios in government.
But as it is now, Malawi has more PSs over the number of ministries and instead of exiting some as per the recommendation of public service reform, government just changed the name for others to be called chief directors when essentially they are at PS level.
Kayuni further observed: “The reform agenda was a good one and it was quiet a commendable effort. What is sad is that we have not moved an inch on those recommendations. The appointing authority continues to appoint more contrary to the spirit of that agenda.”
On top of paying three generals, since 2016 taxpayers are also paying three people on grade A—occupied by the Chief Secretary—the top most position in civil service.
President Mutharika appointed Lloyd Muhara as Chief Secretary replacing George Mkondiwa, who was redeployed as Malawian High Commissioner to India after he got a five- year extension to his contract.
Mkondiwa replaced Hawa Ndilowe, who in 2014, was redeployed to Tanzania as Malawi’s High Commissioner.
Put to him that these presidential appointments were a huge cost to the public purse, Kalirani sees no extravagance:
“That’s not extravagance; remember the deployed public officers are still serving the administration in other capacities. These are senior officers and they have served their country well and they continue to do so.
“They deserve a decent earning within what is provided for in their terms of engagement,” said Kalirani, who is a third Presidential Press secretary to be hired by Mutharika.
The first two were fired and redeployed to other ministries.