There is one but very important lesson running across the cases of disqualified candidates of Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) and the firing of Flames coaching panel of Kinnah Phiri, Young Chimodzi and Jack Chamangwana.
Here are two scenarios. First, a brilliant MSCE student X sits paper A at a Maneb examination centre. A couple of fellow candidates have prior knowledge to the questions they are sitting which student X does not know. These other students have answer sheets (likasa) prepared ahead of the examination. They all write the examination and their copies are filed to Maneb.
At Maneb, markers detect a suspicious pattern. They discover that a number of students have performed extraordinarily brilliantly. Maneb officials suspect after their preliminary investigation that these pupils might have cheated. The authority then decides to penalise all these students who sat for the examination at this centre, including student X, by withholding their results.
Second scenario: Football Association of Malawi has discovered that their national team coaching panel is not delivering results. The national team side has been registering loss after loss. The association is under intense pressure from football supporters to fire these coaches, who have just gone three months into their new 24 month contracts.
The national team association convenes a conference where they examine the coaches' performance. The analysis by the executive members of the association is that the coaches have indeed failed and deserve a sacking. The association chair telephones the coaches soon after the association's verdict, telling them they have been fired.
In all these two instances, the actions of the authorities appear to be normal and satisfying the expectations of many. In the case of Maneb, the authorities and the public are happy with that decision to disqualify the students. It will curb cheating in examinations, a factor that is blamed for contributing to the plummeting standards of education in the country.
In the latter, the decision of the national association pleases the millions of the national team fans who have been baying for the blood of the coaches. It is a timely decision.
However, in both instances, there are serious flaws; at least going by developments that have happened pertaining to Maneb and Fam in the recent weeks.
The similarity in all the instances is that all the accused parties have not been heard. The accused have been p r e s u m e d guilty before they are given an opportunity to explain their side of the story. In these instances, the authorities have played the typical kangaroo court. They have acted as prosecutor, judge and jury.
That is why, in the case of Maneb, it has been forced by the High Court, to release the examination results of all the students whom it disqualified.
As for Fam and its parent, Malawi Government, they have been forced again to grant the fired coach¬es an opportunity to be heard, and I am told such an opportunity is going to take place in Blantyre today. What Malawi Government has done to hear the coaches' side of the issue should have been done by Fam in the first place.
The lesson we learn from the two instances is that no matter the offence commit t e d by an accused person, they have the right to be heard. Employers must endeavour at all times to give an accused employee a chance to be heard even when it is crystal clear that they are wrong. Punishing ac¬cused people without hearing their side of the issue—we now have been well taught—is a violation of the Constitution as the rights of the accused as enshrined in the supreme book are infringed upon.
One basis for that argument is Section 43 of the Constitution on administrative justice which says every person shall have the right to (a)lawful and procedurally fair administrative action, which is justifiable in relation to reasons given where his or her rights, freedoms, legitimate expectations or interests are affected or threatened; and (b) be furnished with reasons in writing for administrative action where his or her rights, freedoms, legitimate expectations or interests if those in¬terests are known.
The second lesson from the Maneb and Fam issues is that it is costly to blatantly violate the law. Had the two institutions followed the simple procedures of summoning the accused to hear their side of the story; they wouldn't have entangled themselves in the current administrative messes, which is costing them more money.
DPP delaying Sec 65 application
On this same platform, I have previously emptied my chest regarding Section 65 on crossing the floor. I have blamed three parties to the issue for delaying its application; the Members of Parliament who are accused of crossing the floor, the Attorney General's (AG) office and the Judiciary.
First, the accused MPs quickly rush to the court to obtain an injunction to stop an impending action from the speaker. And they do it strategically. The accused MPs usually target the day the Speaker appoints to declare their seats vacant and just as he is about to read his verdict, the MPs hit him with an injunction, effectively tying his hands.
The AG is usually guilty of siding with the executive arm of government, which is in most cases the biggest beneficiary of crossing the floor in Parliament.
As for the Judiciary, I have blamed it for its interference with the operations of another arm of government, the National Assembly, when it wants to discipline its folk. I have suggested that during a Parliamentary meeting, the Speaker should not be liable to unnecessary court injunctions just as an MP is immune from arrest at least during Parliamentary meetings. Furthermore, the snail's pace at which justice is administered in our courts works to the advantage of MPs who have crossed the floor.
However, this time around, we have a particular case. It is the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which is somehow delaying the application of Section 65 on scores of MPs who publicly crossed the floor.
One accused MP obtained a High Court injunction against the Attorney General. The case is being handled at the Mzuzu Registry of the High Court and before the judge could rule on the AG's application to strike off the injunction, the DPP applied to join the case as "a friend of the court", further throwing spanners into a probable speedy conclusion of the case.
Now that the DPP says it is not joining the case and will let the judge rule on the matter, let's give the court the benefit of doubt.
However, my worry, and that of DPP I suppose, is that the longer it takes for the ruling to come, the more the ruling risks becoming merely academic. If it takes too long for judgement to come on the matter, the MP who got the injunction will be the biggest winner no matter the outcome of the case. Justice delayed is justice denied.