Civil society asks for a dialogue committee over University stand-off in Malawi

Lilongwe, (June23, 2011). The Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education has asked Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika to transform the Commission of Inquiry on the University impasse into a Dispute Resolution Dialogue Committee in order to resolve the stand off which has led to the firing of four Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU) lecturers. The Coalition observes that since the president, as a Chancellor, is subject to the inquiryís probe, the objectivity of the commission is likely to be compromised as he is known to have already taken sides and so ìthe commission may be forced to change its modus operandi to accommodate himî.

CSCQBE suggests ìthat the commission be dissolved or transform itself into Dispute Resolution Dialogue Committee on the University Impasse and probably beef it up with parents and other eminent persons in society. University lecturers have been refusing to teach since February 16, four days after inspector general of police Peter Mukhito summoned Dr. Blessings Chinsinga, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi in the city Zomba, over an example he gave in class where he drew parallels between the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and the fuel and forex scarcity in Malawi. Following the interrogations, fellow lecturers at the college have stayed away from teaching demanding assurance to academic freedom and an apology from the police chief. They were later joined by their colleagues from the Polytechnic in Blantyre. However, at a public function in March, president Mutharika remarked that Mukhito could not apologise as he alleged that the lecturer was trying to incite an uprising in Malawi. This angered students of the two colleges who went into the streets to demonstrate in solidarity with their lecturers and engaged in running battles with the police.

Government later decided to close the two colleges indefinitely. Mutharika has since established a commission of inquiry to define academic freedom and find solutions to mitigate the same problems from happening. However, the coalition blames Mutharikaís national address two weeks ago for continuing to ìrigorously justifying in his preamble that Dr. Chinsinga was in the wrong for inciting the students for a revolt and mobilizing fellow lecturers to go on unlawful strikeî.  CSCQBE feels that by saying what he said, Mutharika was inciting public anger against the concerned lecturers.  As part of reconciliation, pointing fingers at each other defeats the spirit of collective responsibility and genuine concession, says the coalition in a statement signed by its executive director Benedicto Kondowe. The coalition further faults the president for failing to clarify the future of the dismissal of the four lecturers.  As a Coalition, we hold it that, if the lecturers were dismissed on the grounds of fight for academic freedom and that it has been lifted, it goes without saying that the dismissals are invalid and have to be discharged forthwith unless this was just a mere political statement,î Kondowe says. Last week the University Council wrote CCASU acting president Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, Union general secretary Franz Amin, Blessings Chinsinga and union legal advisor Garton Kamchedzera reaffirming their dismissals. You will continue receiving your emoluments despite the fact your services were terminated,î reads part of the letter signed by registrar Wokomaatani Malunga.

Malunga says the Council will continue paying the lecturers in compliance to with a High Court order restraining it from implementing its decision to terminate the lecturersí employment until an appeal for judicial review on the dismissals is made by the courts. Council waives your services and it would be appreciated if you did not feel compelled to report for your normal duties,î says Malunga in the letters. Meanwhile, both the Polytechnic and Chancellor College union members lecturers have said they will not resume classes on July 4, until the Council reinstates the fired lecturers. The Council says, it suspends the four lecturers because the action taken against them ìwas not the genesis of the industrial action, hence Council does not expect the continued pending of issues in that connection to be an impediment to the reopening of the two colleges. The Council says the impasse has cost the institution a loss of over US$6.6m.

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