National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Executive Director, Ollen Mwalubunju has called for reforms in the Chiefs Act saying the Act, in its present form does not support the growth of democracy.
Mwalubunju made the call following a petition by chiefs which demanded government should take stern action against striking public servants by dismissing them without pay if they did not end their strike and return to work.
“Among several anomalies, the Act (in Sections 3, 4, 10 and 16) gives the president powers to appoint, promote or remove chiefs or increase or decrease the area of a chief’s jurisdiction. It also gives the president discretionary powers to determine the chiefs’ remuneration,” Mwalubunju observed.
As a result of those provisions, he said, the survival of chieftaincies is dependent on the goodwill of sitting presidents, resulting in chiefs acting in a manner that shows loyalty to the president and, often the president’s political party.
“We have some chiefs in Malawi who often act like ruling party functionaries largely due to weaknesses within the Chiefs Act which was enacted at the peak of single-party dictatorship in 1967 and was clearly designed to sustain dictatorship by containing provisions that compel chiefs to have personal loyalty to the president,” he added.
The Nice boss said with due respect, chiefs are not experts in labour matters and therefore cannot be the ones to prescribe a solution to a labour dispute. The best chief would have done was to encourage both sides to use dialogue in order to end the impulse, perhaps even offering themselves to assist in the mediation without being seen to side with one party against the other.
He said the main reason chiefs “poke their noses in matters that dot concern them” was the weakness of the Chiefs Act.
“That is what leads to our chiefs, some of them highly educated and otherwise knowledgeable, taking irrational and dictatorial actions such as demanding that people who are on striker should be dismissed without compensation,” he said.