High-profile official angered Wirima to quit

Having felt that he was undermined, former chairperson of Council of the University of Malawi (Unima) Jack Wirima resigned days before the council’s dissolution following an alleged attack from a high-profile official on the proposal to unbundle Unima.

Nation on Sunday has learnt that Wirima told a high-profile meeting at the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) in Lilongwe on June 7 this year that he had resigned as chairperson amid a discussion to address issues affecting Unima.

Not available: Wirima did not attend this particular meeting

Sources disclosed that Minister of Education Emmanuel Fabiano was chairing the meeting attended by the Unima Council and other government representatives that included Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara and chief director in the OPC, Seodi White.

Another source, who corroborated that Wirima resigned during that meeting, before President Peter Mutharika fired the council on June 18, disclosed that Wirima resigned over governance issues, which saw the official questioning him how some communication from the council to the Chancellor, Mutharika, was made.

The source disclosed that a high-profile official asked Wirima why a final report the Unima Council produced, about the unbundling, was sent to the President without copies to other concerned parties such as the Minister of Education, Science and Technology.

The high profile official, one source said, was visibly upset and further asked Wirima why during one of the meetings the council convened early April 2017 with the university senators and leaders of unions in attendance at The Polytechnic in Blantyre over unbundling of Unima, he asked principals of colleges under Unima, vicechancellor John Saka and union leaders to leave and proceeded to draft a final report to the Chancellor.

There was a feeling among the senators, according to other sources that attended The Polytechnic meeting, that the report sent to the President was not a true reflection of what was discussed about the unbundling as it allegedly suggested that there was a marked division.

And the report allegedly suggested that there was a need for more consultations, when, according to the sources, only about two members were against the unbundling.

“Professor Wirima responded to the official [during the OPC Lilongwe meeting] that it is not courteous to copy a document addressed to the President to other parties, an argument another [government official] backed to be true when the then council chairperson sought his view on the matter.

“And on the issue of asking vice-chancellor, college principals, senators and leaders of the unions at The Polytechnic meeting to leave, Professor Wirima responded to the official that it was all to do with governance issues as the people that were asked to leave were interested parties to the unbundling issue,” said the source.

Wirima felt he was being dressed down and could not stomach it and, according to the sources, he told the high-profile official: “I don’t operate in that manner, I have resigned”. He then walked out of the meeting.

The ex-Unima Council chair was conspicuously missing at a meeting the council summoned in Lilongwe on June 16 2017 to discuss salary disparity within Unima colleges.

According to our sources, union and welfare committees that attended, confirmed Wirima’s position that he had resigned. In an interview this week, Wirima declined to say much.

He argued that he was already out as council chairperson and did not find it necessary to be dragged into issues concerning the council. And when asked about the issue and what was said to have happened, Fabiano said if the meeting took place at OPC, then OPC was the right party to comment on the matter.

The minister, however, asked for a questionnaire, which was sent through the ministry’s public relations office.

The ministry’s public relations officer Lindiwe Chide acknowledged receiving the questionnaire on Wednesday.

After a reminder on Thursday, she said she had referred it to the minister, but there was no response by the time we went to press.

Some of the problems Unima face, such as constant closures of its colleges due to strikes either by lecturers or students, are attributed to failure to unbundle the university.

Government gave the university’s central office to go ahead with consultations about the unbundling, but nothing has materialised yet.

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