Vice-President Saulos Chilima yesterday engaged the University of Malawi (Unima) Council and other stakeholders in Lilongwe in a bid to resolve the controversy on plans to delink the university.
While finer details of the meeting are not yet known, spokesperson in the Office of the Vice-President Pilirani Phiri said the meeting was called to discuss the controversialresolution announced last week by the Unima Council to review the delinking process, which has since attracted mixed reactions from various quarters.
He said: “After today’s meeting, tasks have been given to various stakeholders to guide subsequent discussions. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for next Monday.
“In due course and after thorough consultations within the government hierarchy, a formal communication on the outcome of the meetings will be made to the media and the public.”
When contacted, Ministry of Education Principal Secretary Chikondano Mussa, who attended the meeting, declined to provide details on what transpired during the meeting or its outcomes.
She said briefly: “We met and have given each other assignments. Just like you heard that we had a meeting, you will also hear about the assignments later.”
On his part, Unima Council chairperson Professor Jack Wilima said Unima registrar Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga or his deputy Ashanie Gawa were better-placed to comment on the matter, but the two did not pick their phones when called on several attempts.
In September last year, Chilima announced that a decision was made to delink the four Unima constituent colleges namely Chancellor College, The Polytechnic, Kamuzu Collenge of Nursing and the College of Medicine into stand-alone universities.
He said: “Progress has been made, including a Bill which was already assented to, therefore, it is time for implementation. I have said it now and then that once we make decisions as a country, we must implement and move on.”
Malunga in an earlier interview said the U-turn by Unima Council was meant to correct a legal mistake.
He said: “The statement we issued is self-explanatory. I was not part of the council meeting, but the position of the council is that this is a legal issue. The council is saying that the delinking process was done in total disregard of the law, and they are correcting the law.”
But in a detailed legal opinion, University of Cape Town-based Professor of law Danwood Chirwa faulted the Unima Council’s reversal, saying it was legally wrong and surprising.
He said: “The opinion is easily shown to be legally wrong. First, it ignores the specific provisions of Section 10(1) (a) of the repealed Unima Act and other provisions of that section.
“Second, it is founded on insufficient understanding of the nature of the powers of council and senate and how they operate, or are supposed to operate, in practice within Unima and other public universities.”
Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Burton Mhango also said the Unima Council decision had no legal basis.
However, in an apparent reaction to criticism of the Unima Council by Chirwa and others, Professor Garton Kamchedzera of Chancellor College said there was no written law against the decision.
He argued: “The delinking process effectively has been proceeding without any law to guide it. Despite that, it has gone on for a long time and resources have been expended as expectation interests have been established.
“Entrusting a minister to bring those four laws into operation was sloppy and irresponsible law-making on the part of those who wanted those four Acts. It does not make sense to me to shout that the decision of the new council is illegal or irrational.”
At its 102nd Extraordinary Council Meeting in 2017, the university resolved that the Unima constituent colleges should be delinked to become autonomous universities.
Parliament gave the council a go-ahead to unbundle the university. It set some provisions which were passed into an Act which the Minister of Education has not yet operationalised.