Former President Mutharika at it again

  • Messed up recruitment processes at Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST)
By Gregory Gondwe

Barely a couple of weeks after former President Peter Mutharika was faulted for abuse of office at the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority, Malawi’s public protector has once again chided Mutharika on similar charges after messing up recruitment processes for some senior officers at the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST).

In an investigation report published Thursday, 25 March 2021; Ombudsman Martha Chizuma faults Mutharika, the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and the Department of Statutory Corporations for overstepping their legal mandate regarding the appointments in question.

Under contention were the ‘unprocedural’ recruitments of Rex Kuyeli as CMST director of procurement, Joe Khalani as director of pharmaceutical operations and David Kulemela as branch manager.

“His (Kuyeli’s) appointment indignified public service management and breached the principles of fairness and open competition. The said appointment and subsequent confirmation by the Board was illegal and irregular. It was maladministration,” declares Chizuma.

According to the report, Kuyeli actually never applied nor underwent interviews for the job, but was favoured over four recommended candidates, one of whom was even replaced from the list of by a mysterious name.

The mess started when the Department of Statutory Corporations (DSC) through its Comptroller Stuart Ligomeka, hijacked – without any legal mandate – the recruitment process ending in the President rescinding the final appointment on same day it was made.

Regarding Khalani’s appointment, the Ombudsman declares: “The subsequent appointment…by the former president was seriously irregular. The president exercised powers that he did not have in this case. He was a wrong appointing authority, with the right one being the Board (whose preferred appointment was overruled by Office of the President and Cabinet).”

To this end, Chizuma has directed CMST to make a new offer to the successful candidate, Geoffrey Ngwira, whom the Board had appointed before the DSC hijacked the process, resulting in wrong authority making the offer.

That notwithstanding, the public protector has also reproached the CMST for abandoning its legal duty to finalise the appointment of Khalani by allowing itself to be bulldozed by the DSC stressing that submitting the names of qualifying candidates to OPC for final appointment “is a serious neglect of duty.”

Chizuma’s report then boldly stresses the need to decisively show that arbitrary actions made outside the regulatory framework by the powers that be are not sanctified so as to regain public trust in government administration.

As for Kulemela’s recruitment without interviews, the Ombudsman finds that failure by CMST to advertise the post of branch manager internally when there were about four probable candidates was illegal, irregular and contrary to provisions of the Public Service Act and CMST’s Terms and Conditions of Service.

This is the second time in as many weeks for Mutharika to feel the Ombudsman’s fury after she also censured him for the irregular and unprocedural hiring of Collins Magalasi as Chief Executive Officer at Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority.

Just like she did in the Magalasi case, the Ombudsman has nullified all the CMST appointments in question stressing, in Kuyeli’s instance, that it was illegal and irregular right from the start meaning, the employment contract had legally never existed.

“His appointment indignified public service management and breached the principles of fairness and open competition. The said appointment and subsequent confirmation by the Board was illegal and irregular. It was maladministration.

“Consequently, in the event that Mr. Kuyeli is entitled to any accrued benefits under the illegal contract I have just nullified; the same should not be paid to him. If he has any such claim it should not lie to CMST but to the former President who illegally appointed him,” Chizuma’s report declares.

She has since recommended that Kuyeli, Khalani and Kulemela should revert to their respective old positions of Senior Logistics Officer, Warehousing Manager and Pharmacist-in-Charge.

To ensure good governance and avoid unnecessary confusion, Chizuma’s report has directed the OPC to, as a matter of reform area, provide for a clear policy and legal framework that will clearly define and give mandate to the office of the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations (CSC).

“The Office of the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations is a very important office in as far as oversight of the statutory corporations in the country is concerned. However, in the absence of a proper governance structure that clearly stipulates its functions and responsibilities this office has and will continue getting involved in all kinds of illegalities and […] continue being used as a puppet of OPC especially the office of the Secretary to President and Cabinet,” Chizuma reflects.

To this end she has directed that henceforth the Comptroller should only attend those meetings of Board of Parastatals whose legal framework clearly provides for the office’s membership.

As for those parastatals whose legal frameworks do not include the CSC in their composition of the Boards but their legal instruments provide for an option to co-opt other members, Chizuma has directed them to immediately co-opt the office of the CSC in their respective Boards with clear prescription of what its role would be.

“Only after that official co-opting should the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations get involved in meetings and activities of those parastatals. The Office of President and Cabinet should, as a matter of urgency and as a matter of reform area, provide for a clear policy and legal framework that will clearly define and give mandate to the office of the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations. This should be done by 30th March 2022.”

Meanwhile, the investigation report has exonerated CMST CEO Feston Kaupa from allegations that he single-handedly employed Kuyeli as Director of Procurement following pressure from some external forces.