Talking Blues: Let the MSCE and NOCMA fiascos serve as Chakwera’s wake-up call

Yet to be written is the story of Malawi Congress Party (MCP)’s perseverance when most of its liberation peers have since gone into oblivion.

MCP’s history is pregnant with lessons. Not only has MCP survived, but after a twenty-six-year wait, it rebounded into power. After the June 1993 Referendum and the subsequent 1994 Elections losses, who would have thought MCP would live to fight another day and win?

My intention was to pen chapter one of this back-from-the-dead story for this week’s column when calamity struck. That disaster is the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) exams leakage which has put lives of 154,000 kids on rewind, inconvenienced Malawians and created a MK4.5 billion dent in our already miserable national wallet.

The long and short of it is that English Paper 1, Agriculture and Biology Theory examination papers to name a few, were in circulation well before being administered.

The Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB)’s reaction was classical: deny first. Then, neither confirm nor deny. After that, mumble something about “investigations”. After thoroughly wasting everyone’s time, finally, acknowledge the mess.

“We have heard rumours here and there, and we are investigating at the highest level and, as soon as we finish the investigations, we will come back to you. But also, through you, I would want to warn anybody who is involved. Should it be proven that people were involved, we will make sure that the law takes its course,” said the Minister of Education Agnes NyaLonje, eventually.

Now, if truth be told, cockups like this happen even in the best organised of countries or institutions.

That said, if there is anything that sets national examinations apart, it is the fact that the governments strive to create a levelled playground for all students.

This is achieved by instituting robust security measures which come at a cost, hence the MK4.5 billion bill.

With MANEB’s botching this round, the taxpayer has nevertheless doled out MK4.5 billion. For nothing.

“I am therefore giving the Malawi National Examination Board until the end of this month to remove the top management of MANEB, on account of this gross failure, and replace it with a new team that will conduct the most credible examinations Malawi has ever had, which must be done no later than January 2021,” was President Lazarus Chakwera’s indictment.

What should we make of all this? At least three issues come forth.

  1. a) The first is that muvi woyang’anira umalowadi mmaso. Conversely: a stitch in time saves nine.

Unfortunately for the 154,000 students, Chakwera’s tough talk has come too late. Talking of talking tough, Chakwera’s claims that he is “in a state of anguish” and that the anguish he feels at the slow pace of reform to “clear the rubble” “is the same that is felt by all of you” and that he, therefore, shares our “vexation at the lack of movement in the new direction” ring hollow because unlike you and me, he is the president.

He has the mandate plus the government machinery at his disposal and being the ultimate appointing authority, it is ludicrous that he is as vexed as poor us.

He has no ground whatsoever on which to stand and claim to be “as equally vexed” as we are.

He has the wherewithal, he should act.

  1. b) Secondly, it seems that Chakwera has started sleeping on the job a mite too soon.

Look here, his own Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Mr Zangazanga Chikhosi who chairs the board of NOCMA, is behind the controversial appointment of one Helen Buluma, NOCMA’s Deputy CEO as Acting CEO.

Because Buluma is a known political operative who got the NOCMA job due to her allegiance to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) where she competed at its 2018 Convention for the position of Director of International Relations and was the party’s shadow parliamentarian for Nsanje South West in the 2019 General Elections; the Tonse fraternity – rightly or not – is aghast.

Even more disturbing is what is making rounds as the SPC’s motivation for such a decision which I will not put in print here but if Chakwera cares, he can do his own research.

All this goes to show that Chakwera would do well to wake up from his premature slumber and reconsider his choice of lieutenants.

Consider this:

  1. it is a fact that the SPC is the most powerful and senior officer in the public service;
  2. as duly demonstrated by the NOCMA Acting CEO saga, the SPC is squarely to blame for creating conditions conducive to Chakwera’s “anguish”.

Would it, therefore, be wrong to adduce that oblivious of the risks associated with taming snakes, Chakwera seems keen to breed vipers on his backyard?

  1. c) The third and final issue is something I have written here before. Id est to deliver even 50% of Malawians’ expectations, Chakwera needs a Cabinet of women and men who are top of their game in the respective sectors.

Just as an appeasement Cabinet or a family or next-of-kin type of Cabinet will not deliver, a hit and miss Cabinet is a recipe for the likes of the MANEB MSCE scandal and worse.

To recap, the MANEB debacle is a blessing in disguise. It has more than proved our elders saying that muvi woyang’anira umalowa m’maso right.

It is also a wake-up call for Chakwera that he cannot afford to keep vipers in his backyard and that unless he revisits the composition of his Cabinet and senior appointments, he should brace for more anguishes and vexations.

To be frank, Chakwera has done an excellent job in shaping our immediate goals. Saulos Chilima, the Vice President, has duly and effectively set the tempo and dispensed ‘likasas’ to parastatals and most ministries.

Unfortunately, save for these two, the rest are either busy gossiping or inciting intra-alliance infighting, or bribe-hunting.

Chakwera should not, even for a moment, forget that procrastination is the thief of time. He should not wait until December to do the needful.

Mr President, do clear the rubble.

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