Malawi flagship online news platform, Nyasa Times has named Ombudsman Martha Chizuma as its 2019 ‘Person of the Year’.
Nyasa Times sought nomination from various reputable commentators and analysts to nominate and give reasons for the accolade and has collectively named the office of the Ombudsman, under the able Martha Chizuma as its “person of the year” for 2019.
The publication’s ‘person of the year’ recognizes “the person or group of people who most influenced the news and the country – for better or for worse – during the past year”. It is decided by the Nyasa Times editorial directorate.
Top three nominees had also the Judiciary with Supreme Court of Malawi landmark ruling in defence of right to demonstration; the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court ruling on the continuity of the presidential elections case as well as ConCourt opening to public accountability through live radio coverage and interpretation in national dialect Chichewa.
In selecting Ombudsman Martha Chizuma as ‘person of the year’, Nyasa Times noted that driven by a deep conviction of professionalism, patriotism, hardwork and integrity and deriving her powers and jurisdiction from Constitution in Section 120, 122(1),123, 124 (a) , Chizuma has -within a short period she has been at the helm of the Office of the Ombudsman- managed to resuscitate the institution of a public protector to relevance as a governance and oversight institution through implementing progressive strategies such as the “Repositioning Agenda” – which involved shift of focus to investigating maladministration cases in service delivery.
“ In 2019, she continued trailblazing with an approach to public office so alien to the country. She is defending the voiceless and seeking to cleanup government system she is part of,”observed blogger and newspaper columnist Golden Matonga.
Governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali said Ombsudman Martha Chizuma, 40 is arguably befitting personality of the year.
Munthali noted that under Chizuma the Hospital Ombudsman platform has seen improvement in health service delivery and more accountability from health personnel. The introduction of Ombudsman Clinics since 2018 has made the Office Ombudsman easily accessible in hard to reach areas and hence intervening in real issues affecting real people.
“Not only that, the Office of Ombudsman under the leadership of Chizuma has since 2016 to-date conducted 6 systemic investigations which have revealed high level impunity and failure of duty in matters dealing with procurement of farm machinery for small holder farmers, handling of street children, removal of uteruses from women in public hospitals [ titled Woes of the Womb], among other investigations,” said Munthali.
He said the key highlight for 2019 has been how the Office of Ombudsman successfully spearheaded war against the famous Tractorgate—a public finance management scandal in which government spent $50 million (about K37 billion) obtained from an Indian bank procuring tractors meant to serve poor farming communities, but which ended up being sold at below market prices to senior government officials, businesspersons and politicians.
He said through strategic public interest litigation leading to a landmark Supreme Court of Appeal decision ordering the Ministry of Agriculture and Water and Development to issue a public apology for the Tractorgate. The Ministry of Agriculture subsequently complied with the decision in July 2019.
Following several reports of abuses in the local government system, with millions of taxpayers’ money squandered through mismanagement and outright embezzlement, Ombudsman has started investigations into the alleged abuse of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) in Councils and will be investigating how all the district councils in the country have been spending taxpayers’ money in the past five years.
She is also investigating government on irregularities and discrimination in recent promotions of teachers.
According to governance commentator Munthali, if there is one action of courage, professionalism and in defense of Constitutionalism that stood out in the year 2019 is how Martha Chizuma challenged “executive impunity and arrogance” in the appointments of the seventh cohort of Malawi Human Rights Commissioners (MHRC) earlier in 2019.
President Peter Mutharika in April 2019 appointed new commissioners for the 7th Cohort of MHRC constituting of Dr. Sunduzwayo Madise, Boniface Massa, Baldwin Chiyamwaka, Dr. Bertha Sefu, Stella Twea, Scader Louis and Rev. Cecilia Kotia. The seven were joined by two ex-officio Commissioners: the Law Commissioner and the Ombudsman.
However, it is the appointment of Chiyamwaka and Kotima who were neither nominated by any eligible organization nor appearing on the list of those submitted to the President by the Ombudsman and the Law Commissioner which raised eye brows, a scenario that subsequently forced the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma to rise up in defense of Constitutionalism by writing the Office of the President and Cabinet to reverse the decision as it was a clear violation of the law.
The Ombudsman bold decision attracted a wide range of public applaud including Constitutional Law Professor Edge Kanyongolo and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) all backed Chizuma by saying her observation were correct and based on law and further advised President Mutharika to act on the Ombudsman recommendations.
In the absence of a fully constituted team of MHRC Commissioners, Chizuma has also been in fore front making MHRC visible and relevant in responding to some grave human rights violations. For example, Chizuma has been in fore front leading Commission of Inquiries in the killings of persons with albinism and the Nsundwe women rape saga whose recommendations – which in some cases, unfortunately, have been ignored by State agencies – have shaked the public space, calling for robust action by the government and state agencies.
It can be said without doubt that Martha Chizuma has become “a symbol of hope, courage and professionalism” in as far as driving the crusade against impunity in the country is concerned.
“It is a fact that none of her predecessors took the fight against mismanagement of public resources and abuse of office in the manner she has done. She is a living example to other public officials who have often fallen prey to ‘politics of poverty of ideas’ that it is possible for one to remain professional, non-partisan and uncompromised despite being appointed by a political authority,” pointed out Munthali.
And therefore, there can never be any other person or institution that deserves the Nyasa Times person of the Year recognition in 2019 other than Martha Chizuma, Malawi’s best Ombudsman so far.
The Nyasa Times introduced the ‘Person of the Year’ accolade in 2010.
In 2018 Youth and Society (YAS), a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for youth empowerment and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) were ointly named 2018’s “Person of the Year” by Nyasa Times.
In 2017 Nyasa Times named Mzuzu-based governance and youth rights advocate Charles Kajoloweka as its 2017 Person of the Year.
In 2016 Nyasa Times named seven youthful Malawians – Wanangwa Msutu, Duwa Mvula, Milca Mphepo, Tiyanjane Kapalamula, Ruth Gondwe, Ivy Chilingulo and Kalolo Msaka -who set off on May 30 for a 362-kilometre 10-day charity walk from Lilongwe to Blantyre to raise funds to buy medical equipment for the High Dependency Unit of Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) paediatric ward
In 2015 Nyasa Times named Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mrs Mary Dominica Kachale as its 2015 Person of the Year or notching 15 convictions in the ongoing Cashgate Scandal, and for remaining unintimidated by potential convicts who may probably be trying all they can to avoid jail.
In 2014 the title went to ‘Malawi Media’ and late journalist Ralph Tenthani for work in informing the masses during the year of elections, playing rightful role as public watchdog and also keeping the nation updated on cashgate scandal.
And the year before that, Nyasa Times named Consumer Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito as person of the year because he consistently spoke against bad social, economic and political policies that impact negatively on consumer.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :