Human rights activist Billy Mayaya has raised human rights and governance concerns against the manner in which Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) executive director Gerald Chiunda and five others were suspended following the leakage of 2020 Malawi School Certificate of Education ( MSCE) examinations.
In an interview with Nyasa Times, Mayaya said it is only proper for Maneb board to immediately call back the suspended director Chiunda and others who include the examinations body's executive director of examinations administration Gerson Mutala Phiri, acting director of corporate services Christopher Neba, chief examinations development officer Ishmail Fake, chief examinations security officer Joseph Chilombe and assistant examinations security officer Mike Bandawe.
On November 4 2020, Maneb and Education Minister Agnes NyaLonje announced the cancellation of the 2020 MSCE examinations due to widespread leakage of examination papers and the board instituted preliminary investigations.
On November 6 2020, the board held an emergency meeting which looked at the report on the examinations leakage. The meeting also resolved to suspend Chiunda pending investigations.
But Mayaya said while Chiunda and management were conducting investigations, they were summoned by the Maneb board chairperson Alfred Mtenje on November 12 2020 and were immediately served with suspension letters.
"This happened before hearing from the management team which up to now has not happened.
"Furthermore, the board chairperson directed that the executive director should no longer interact with him in person. Additionally, the board chairperson authorised and approved payments himself and even cordoned off some Maneb offices using the Police without consulting with the executive director," Mayaya said.
He pointed out that the suspension letters attested that judgement had already been passed on the management team that they were all guilty even though the team was heading directorates which have different mandates.
"The Board instituted a committee to also conduct preliminary investigations and a report was produced but was not shared with the suspended officers. Surprisingly, the suspension letters cited the findings in the report," Mayaya observed.
Last week, Maneb board chairperson Mtenje and acting executive director Dorothy Nampota presented a preliminary police report to the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Technology in which they stated that some disgruntled staff may have disabled security cameras which could have captured critical information on probable culprits who leaked the 2020 MSCE examinations.
But Mayaya pointed out that when the Parliamentary Committee on Education directed the Maneb Board to meet them alongside the suspended officers, the Board never extended the invitation to the suspended officers.
"Instead the board chairperson and the acting executive director at the meeting with the Parliamentary Committee took advantage of absence of the suspended officers to present the following lies'. [That] there was a management chaos at Maneb; [that] the number of Police Officers was reduced during production of examination materials [and] the suspended officers were in various corners of the country. Therefore could not make themselves available for a meeting with the Parliamentary Committee."
Mayaya said while the suspended officers are awaiting their fate, the Maneb board has already recruited replacements for the suspended officers.
"This creates a lot of psychological torture to the suspended officers, their families and relatives. Yet the Board is not legally constituted," he said.
Mayaya said the Maneb Board by law is supposed to consist of 31 members and yet the current Board has 13 members only.
Meanwhile, High Court Blantyre Registry has ordered leave for judicial review in a case where Chiunda and five others are challenging their suspension at Maneb.
The court has also restrained Maneb board from exercising its functions under Section 9 of the Maneb Act, including making resolutions affecting employment contracts of the six until the hearing and determination of the matter.
The court case was originally filed in the High Court (Zomba Registry) but has since been moved to Justice Jack N'riva in the Blantyre Registry after several judges recused themselves, citing conflict of interest.