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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Talking Blues: Hail the Ombudsman!

Ladies and gentlemen, hail the new Ombudsman Grace Malera !

”Court gags Ombudsman” read one headline, and “Mera backs CEO Kachaje” read another. This was on Thursday, 11 November 2021.

It has been a hell of a week, one which Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) Board Members would want permanently expunged from the annals of history.

Good for us, and tough luck to them; the genie is out of the bottle, and all they have is rotten egg all over their faces.

Where should I begin?

I had wanted to discuss President Lazarus Chakwera’s recent remarks whereby while he and his own – thanks to tax and toll-free payers – are drowning in allowances, he is asking for “patience” from the broke majority. The very lot that voted for him and, yes, the same people suffering under a twin yoke of taxes and inflation.

So, while Malawians are tumbling and failing to rise above the overwhelming waves of inflation and taxes, President Chakwera would want them to economically “suffocate” without disturbing his peace or inundating his inbox.

I, for one, never thought I would live to hear this. At any rate, not from a self-titled servant leader. But here we are. As I have said, this can wait.

Since President Chakwera has dropped all pretence, abandoned pretentious campaign pledges, and plagiarized the more lucrative ”Here-today, there-tomorrow” from Siku Motors, we are assured of a good three years’ worth of daily speeches, which we will be discussing. So, let’s save the ungrateful lectures for another day.

On Wednesday, the High Court granted an injunction to the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera), stopping Ombudsman Grace Malera from releasing an investigations report dubbed ‘Curbing Impunity on Alleged Unprocedural and Irregular Hiring of Mera Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Henry Kachaje’.

The drama started at 10:10am. Court officials stormed into the briefing room, presented Ms Grace Malera with court injunction documents, and curtailed her briefing some 10 minutes into the discourse.

Good for us, and tough luck for Mera, she had already shared copies of her determination with the concerned and affected parties before the briefing and the injunction – if anything – created a Streisand Effect, a phenomenon named from entertainer Barbra Streisand.

In 2003 Ms Streisand sued a photographer and a website after publishing a photo of her mansion against her wishes. Before the suit, no one wished to know the type of abode she had or dwelled in.

After news of the lawsuit, thousands thronged to the website to feed their eyes and satiate their now peaked curiosity. This is precisely what Mera’s injunction achieved.

As we speak, save for partisan groups where party hacks see nothing wrong with the compromised, questionable and dubious recruitment, fake degrees and bogus professor’s racket exposed by the Ombudsman; Mera, its CEO and his infamous MBA are the butt of all sorts of jokes.

Credibility and hitherto presumed integrity are in tatters because the 73 page and 30,753-word long report painstakingly catalogues what can, at best, be termed a charade devised to prevent other genuinely qualified aspirants for someone who should never, in the first place, have been under consideration.

Thanks to the ill-advised injunction, the report has sold like a hot cake.

In a nutshell, Ombudsman Grace Malera faults Mera for shortlisting Kachaje when none of the documents submitted in his application purportedly listed the said master’s degree, which Mera had indicated was required when advertising for the post.

The determination further revealed that the purported master’s degree, produced by Kachaje later after the interview, was from an institution that is not accredited and which Professor Danwood Chirwa – an esteemed academic – swears is a diploma mill.

Reads part of the determination: “Under the circumstances, as established by the inquiry, I must conclude that the board of Mera flouted all required due diligence processes in proceeding to interview Mr Kachaje regardless.

”The board placed Mr Kachaje in an advantaged position over the rest of the candidates by proceeding to shortlist him when he had not met the requisite criteria. This was not only manifest unfairness, it was actual unfairness and is tantamount to maladministration.”

Malera said a person becomes certified for an academic qualification upon conferment, usually indicated on a duly and authoritatively signed certificate.

She observed that in the case of Kachaje, the date is presented as 26 August 2021.

She said: ”Mr Kachaje was, therefore, erroneously, unprocedurally, and irregularly recruited considering that even if he can be said to have been a holder of a master’s degree in business administration, the same was acquired after the fact, i.e. on 26 August 2021, after the offer was made on 19 August and he accepted it on 24 August.”

The Ombudsman concludes by saying; ”In proceeding at all material times from the point of shortlisting to the point of the offer and acceptance of the employment contract on the premise that Mr Kachaje held Master’s Degree, which was a requisite minimum requirement, when in fact this was not the case, the whole recruitment process was founded on voidable premises, and therefore void ab initio, on which premises the purported recruitment of Mr Kachaje is a nullity.”

Now, what can we make of this saga?

The first thing is that in keeping with the current administration’s shameless reneging of campaign promises, Mera Board is merely toeing the line of the appointing authority.

As stated earlier this year, the assumptions and conditions under which the campaign pledges were made changed, and the Chakwera administration can no longer be held accountable for its promises.

Merit and truly competitive hiring must therefore go to hell and hang.

The second thing is that although party hacks were thrilled a couple of months ago with the rubble cleaning bit performed by Ms Chalera’s predecessor, rubble – according to Malawi Congress Party (MCP) – is only rubble when it sympathises with other political parties.

Let rubble be made in or be affiliated with MCP, and all its “sins” are forgiven, and bogus degrees awarded by equally phoney professors become as white as snow.

Exceptions thus made for party loyalists and woe unto them who dare expose untouchable pro-MCP rubble. Since every cloud has a silver lining, at the end of the tunnel is a shimmering light.

When Madam Martha Chizuma moved to the Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB), some well-meaning Malawians were concerned that her shoes would prove too big to fill. Others even suggested that Malawians would rue the day they lobbied for Chizuma’s re-assignment.

Well, it turns out that Madam Chizuma is not a lone star. Among us are a lot of diligent women of substance who, given half a chance,

• can withstand the machinations of goalpost shifting shady boards,

• scoff at unaccredited degrees and,

• shun bogus professors and their disciples, in their noble and admirable mission to reset and reboot Malawi.

Ladies and gentlemen, hail the new Ombudsman! May the good Lord strengthen and protect her from forces of darkness!

Can I hear an Amen!

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