Woes continue at troubled Macra: Ben Chitsonga returns to work despite criminal trial in court

Controversy is refusing to die at Malawi Regulatory Authority (Macra) as more drama unfolds as some of the section directors are still in office after their positions being declared illegally and improperly occupied.

Deposed and embattled MACRA Director General, Godfrey Redson Itaye was illegally and wrongfully sitting on interview panels during the recruitment of almost all the directors when he was not mandated to do so, Nyasa Times can reveal.

Documents in our possession reveals that Itaye sat on the interviewing panel for almost all the positions of directors, which is contrary to the provisions of the Communications Act of 2016.

Back at work against all odds: Director of Finance, Ben Chitsonga.

Last year, the Office of the Ombudsman launched an investigation on various cases on abuse of office and maladministration at the Authority.

On 10th May, 2021, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma released a report, which was entitled, “Secure in Deception Report.”

In her determination, Chizuma said Itaye could not seat on an interview panel and as such recruitment through such interviews were null and void.

Nyasa Times investigations reveal that ousted former director general, Itaye sat on interview panel for the recruitment of Thoko Chimbe, Director of Legal Service, Henry Silika, Director of Telecommunications and the current Acting Director General, Fegus Lipenga, Director of Broadcasting and Ben Chitsonga, Director of Finance, when he was not supposed to do so.

Chitsonga, who is currently on bail, which was granted to him by the courts, following his arrest and is facing abuse of office and criminal charges has surprisingly returned to work to the shock of everyone at the troubled communications regulatory authority.

And by extension, those appointments, which Itaye presided over its interviews, are illegal.

Legally, it is only the Board that has powers to appoint employees on the rank of director Chizuma ordered.

Signed and delivered: An interview result sheet for director of legal affairs in which Itaye was illegally involved.

“The participation of the former DG as a panellist on the interviews for the position of the directors, therefore, was illegal in terms of sections 21 and 22 of the Communications Act,” Chizuma ordered.

But all the directors interviewed by Itaye are still serving in their positions against the Ombudsman’s order.

Meanwhile, disgruntled MACRA’s Director of Finance, Ben Chitsonga has reportedly reported back to office despite that he is answering criminal charges and is on bail.

According to MACRA inside sources, Chitsonga reported back to office three weeks ago and no explanation has been given.

“While we appreciate that there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty but in Chitsonga’s case, he should be interdicted or suspended from work to allow investigations to take place without his interference.

“Again, Chitsonga’s return to work will give rise to him tampering with evidence as well as interfering with the witnesses. He should have come back after the court clears him up,” said an impeccable highly placed source at Macra who opted for anonymity.

Chitsonga was arrested together with MACRA’s former Director General, Godfrey ‘Redson’ Itaye and Joseph Ngalawa, who was the Authority’s Procurement Specialist.

The trio are being accused of facilitating dubious payments involving millions of kwachas for the procurement of former governing party (DPP) regalia using taxpayers money.

Last month the Ministry of Justice, State Advocate chambers wrote MACRA requesting original documents in relation to the case and most of the documents are finance related.

Surprisingly, the accused person is now back in office and chances are that Chitsonga will tamper with the evidence and also manipulate would be witnesses.

The case is being heard before His Worship Senior Resident Magistrate Godfrey Balaka sitting at Blantyre and the trio are out on court bail.

‘Itaye rebuffed’

The High Court in Blantyre last week, rebuffed former Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) Director General (DG) Godfrey Itaye’s application to put aside the Ombudsman’s determination to nullify his employment.

Former Ombudsman Martha Chizuma, now ACB, director general in a report on May 10, titled Secure in Deception, nullified contracts of Macra former DGs Itaye and Henry Shamu alongside other directors and managers for unlawful recruitment.

An additional 16 employment contracts were also nullified for various reasons following an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman into how Itaye and others were recruited by Macra.

Dissatisfied with the determination, Itaye, through lawyer Chancy Gondwe, applied for a judicial review of the decision and exercise of powers by the Ombudsman, but also an interim order for stay of the decision until determination of the review.

According to court documents, Itaye sought the court to declare, among others, that the Ombudsman’s decision to declare that his employment was illegally and irregularly made was an error in fact and law.

But in her ruling, High Court Judge Rachel Sikwese said Itaye has satisfied both constitutional and statutory requirements to be granted permission for review of the Ombudsman’s determination.

Securing deception’

In Secure Deception, the Ombudsman stated that Itaye was initially appointed post master general (PMG) on August 27 2014 by former president Peter Mutharika without any interviews.

A year later, Itaye was appointed Macra DG following an extraordinary meeting held at Protea Ryalls on August 10 2015.

Minutes of the meeting indicate that the board was informed that its recommendation of Andrew Kumbatira as DG was not accepted by the then minister of Information which meant there was a vacancy in the office.

The board reportedly was advised that government proposed that it should consider re-assigning Itaye, a thing they deliberated and recommended to the minister who on the same day accepted.

Itaye’s appointment later was effective August 9 2015.

In May 2020, government redeployed Itaye to Malawi Posts Corporation (MPC) to serve as PMG and on June 17 2020, Muhara redeployed Itaye from MPC to Lilongwe Water Board.

On November 16, 2020 government deployed Itaye back to MPC.

Itaye’s current contract with Macra was supposed to expire on January 30 2022, but the Ombudsman nullified all the contracts and ordered Macra board to provide evidence of the nullification by May, 30 2021.

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