Tough issues require tough decisions. This is the scenario in which President Lazarus Chakwera, exercising his executive powers, has decisively acted. He has directed the board of directors for the Malawi National Examination Board (Maneb) to fire the organisation’s management and replace it with a competent one. Chakwera’s decision came a day after Minister of Education Agnes Nyalonje announced the cancellation of the 2019/2020 MSCE examinations on November 4 following leakage of the examinations.
It’s a tough call for the Maneb Board. But still it must be done and done quickly, procedurally and legally. The Board will have to consider a wide range of issues, all of which will heavily lean on where the buck stops.
When former US President Harry Truman first used the phrase ‘where the buck stops’, he wanted to emphasise that those in top decision-making positions must readily accept the ultimate responsibility for the decisions that they make—good or bad. They will get all the glory and honour, tribute and distinction etc. when everything is going right. But they should also be ready to gracefully face the shame and dishonour and take it on the chin when things are going south. In other words, there should be no game passing.
In the case of Maneb, the board hired the management headed by the executive director (ED) as the controlling officer and his or her deputies and senior management officers to assist him or her in implementing the organisation’s mandate. The buck, therefore, stops with the ED. Meaning the ED must take responsibility for anything and should not try to push the responsibility on someone else. He is ultimately responsible for every aspect of the board’s work and outcomes.
But naturally the Maneb ED, Gerald Chiunda will heap blame for the scandal on some officers in the institutions. Admitted, it is very possible that other officers at the organisation might have been responsible for the mess just to sabotage their boss. Should such be the case, I would wholeheartedly feel sorry for him. But still the immediate question that would arise is: Was the ED on top of things at Maneb? Where was he when this was happening? Why was he not able to prevent or stop it?
The President has now passed the ball into the board of directors’ court. Their brief is to act with speed and act smart. Conduct a due diligence on the board’s senior officers. Convict them or acquit them. The directors will have to consider each Maneb management officer’s role in the leakage of the examinations on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately for the boss, the verdict has already been passed. The President directive is that management should be removed and replaced. The buck stops with the ED. So he cannot escape the sharp edge of the sword, except through divine intervention. Obviously the boss will try to show his innocence in the matter. He will do and say anything to absolve himself from blame. He will name his own bad apples. But that is the game passing I have talked about above.
Unfortunately, however much he may try to do so, he won’t save himself. If Maneb is rotten, then the rot starts from the head. The ED is too deep into the murky waters. It is not even just about implementing the President’s directive. The board of directors will lay a charge on the officers, which I think is likely to be incompetence and negligence of duty. Then it will give the concerned officers a chance to defend themselves. Then depending on how they acquit themselves, pass its verdict.
There is one huge lesson to be learnt from all this fiasco. In an organisation—big or small—nothing beats the importance of team work. When all forces are pulling in one direction and all energy is being expended on achieving the sole objectives of the organisation, you triumph together. When you pull in different directions, you fail or fall together. I can only surmise that the Maneb ED had many officers who were not wishing him well. What will happen is not what one would want to happen to anyone. Exam leakage is not a new phenomenon in the country. But for purposes of demonstrating our resolve to keep the bar high on diligence, let the inevitable happen.