In December 2014 former Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Christopher Makileni commenced a lawsuit against the Malawi Government.
He sued for “constructive dismissal” and claimed MK1.1 billion.
His grievance was that on 3 June 2014 he was redeployed from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to the Office of the President and Cabinet by the then Chief Secretary to the Public Service Hawa Ndilowe.
The former Chief Secretary told Makileni she had been ordered by now-former President Peter Mutharika that Makileni should be posted to OPC Special Duties.
That was not all.
He was advised to go home and wait while logistical and administrative arrangements were being organised for him.
In due course, the OPC repossessed his Toyota Prado TX official vehicle.
Seven months elapsed. Nothing came forth.
Makileni, therefore, concluded that he had been “parked”, the jargon used when government views someone as an undesirable employee.
Makileni deemed this “constructive dismissal”; a term used when an employee terminates employment because their employer’s behaviour is so intolerable or heinous or is making life so complicated that the employee has is forced to quit.
Where did it begin?
In 2004, Makileni was working in the Office of the then Vice President Dr Cassim Chilumpha. Around that time, he was arrested on trumped-up charges and subsequently acquitted by the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate Court in 2007.
He was compensated with MK36 million.
Under the Peoples Party (PP) administration, Makileni was promoted and assigned to the Ministry of Local Government on promotion only to be “parked” when Joyce Banda lost elections in 2014.
Let us fast-forward to now.
In a memo dated 20 August 2020 Attorney General Dr Chikosa Silungwe rebuked Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Zangazanga Chikhosi for more or less going down the same road that Hawa Ndilowe, at the behest of Mutharika, had taken.
Wrote Silungwe in part: “I note that you have not responded to my letter of 16 July 2020. Please note that the purported secondment of Mr Chizaso Nyirongo; and the posting of Mr Amani Mussa breach the Public Service Act, especially Regulation 1:175 and Regulation 1:176 of the Malawi Public Service Regulations. The two decisions are ultra-vires and illegal.”
The fact of the matter was that Nyirongo who previously served as a chief draftsman was being reappointed to replace Mussa despite Ministry of Justice not asking the OPC for the secondment of a person from another department.
Also recently in the news was Principal Secretary for Justice and Solicitor General Gertrude Hiwa’s challenging her transfer to the OPC as chief director for good governance. She was challenging the decision because, among others, she was not given the right to be heard.
In the same memo dated 20 August 2020, Silungwe warned against poorly drafted contracts, unlawful dismissals and reckless redeployment.
He put it in black and white that such tendencies cost taxpayers K29 billion between 2018 and 2020.
Let me paraphrase this last bit: Chikosa was warning the current government that it is us, the taxpayers, who pay and bear the brunt of administrative cockups by those entrusted to manage of our money and that there is no justification whatsoever for penalising the taxpayer because those in power want to settle petty scores with their enemies, real or perceived.
Blues’ Orators, now brace yourself for the stone-cold stunner: two weeks before Attorney General Silungwe rebuked Zangazanga, on 3 August 2020 to be precise, the Industrial Court Relations issued a Consent Order awarding Christopher Makileni the following:
• Pension: MK216,635,824.14;
• Loss of use of vehicle: MK205,500,000.00;
• Salary before tax: MK63,000,000.00 and
• Fuel: MK63,000,000.00
Totalling a whopping MK754,835,824.14!
Thanks to Mutharika’s vindictive act, Makileni is MK754,835,824.14 richer; and the rest of us MK754,835,824.14 poorer.
How many school blocks have we lost? How many tablets of life-saving medicine? How many currently defective hospital equipment would this have repaired?
How many teachers and nurses would this have paid?
Putting a bag of fertiliser at the promised but now proving elusive to deliver MK4,995 per bag, this translates into 151,118 bags of fertiliser.
This is the fortune that just one, just one, ill-advised dismissal grounded in revenge and executed in blatant disregard of the Law has cost the taxpayer.
Poof. MK754,835,824.14 gone. Just like that.
You know what? When AG Silungwe was rebuking Zangazanga, those who leaked the memo thought they were hurting Silungwe.
Looking and learning from Makileni´s case, one wishes that Silungwe’s predecessors were that blunt in advising overzealous government officials carrying out instructions, no matter how idiotic or illegal, without considering the implications.
Since there is nothing to be gained by crying over spilt milk, we should look to the future: how can we help Zangazanga Chikhosi and his successors from losing us billions through illegal decisions and actions?
I have a few suggestions; feel free to add yours.
First and foremost, I would urge President Chakwera and his buddy Saulos Chilima to ensure, through the ongoing reform, that the Civil Service is completely de-politicised and that professionalism permeates through the recruitment, promotion and termination of all civil servants.
Secondly, now that Chakwera has recruited an army of advisors, he should draw a line from what they can do and not do.
Most politically driven decisions and dismissals are championed by political advisors whose value I have never understood anyway.
Thirdly, any public or civil servant whose lack of judgement costs the government should foot the bill personally.
Why should our small and vulnerable farmers lose 151,118 bags of fertiliser, just like that, because Mutharika had beef with Makileni?
Finally, I urge Chakwera and Chilima to really take heed of AG Silungwe’s very sound advice. Unlike the squadron of political advisors surrounding them, Silungwe is unafraid when the need to provide sound advice, no matter how unpalatable, arises.
In Chakwera’s and Chilima’s shoes, Silungwe would be my go-to man.