Who is in control at OPC?

The leadership of the current Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara has been rife with embarrassing gaffes not characteristic of a man of the legal fraternity who rose up to the ranks of a judge.

Since his appointment in 2016, his stint as Chief Secretary has been characterised by one goof after another.

His position has become that of an author of press statements detailing the president’s assignments but certainly not much of the advisory role that is expected of someone in his position.

It was under his leadership that recently President Peter Mutharika used the old Public Audit Act to appoint a new Auditor General not long after he assented to the new one.

One would be inclined to believe that such an appointment was made unilaterally without seeking advice from the Minister of Finance, under whom the office of Auditor General falls, or indeed the Chief Secretary. But that cannot be.

There have been so many gaffes by the appointing authority such as flouting the Gender Equality Act in appointing board members and making appointments which are not the preserve of his office.

The Chief Secretary is a man who three years after his appointment to OPC is yet to dispose of his cases from the short period that he was a judge of the High Court.

This week, it had to take a whole three days for OPC to announce the death of Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe and even that simple announcement could not just pass without incident.

On Tuesday, Muhara’s office informed Malawians that Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe had died the previous week.

The press statement which entered the public domain around 11am went on to indicate that the Paramount Chief would be accorded a burial with military honours and that Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa would represent the President at the ceremony taking place the following day from 9am.

But a mere six hours later, OPC had changed that and announced that instead Mutharika would be in attendance and the funeral programme would start at 1pm.

In the four years that he has been in power, Mutharika has been known for flaunting his 25 car convoy on the country’s roads, at one point stopping in the middle of the road to go and inspect his estate.

Mutharika has sparingly used the helicopter or any plane at his disposal to ease his travels around the country for reasons only known to himself but most likely stemming from a mishap that the late president Bingu wa Mutharika experienced some years ago over Dedza district.

The new programme indicating 1pm as the start of the funeral ceremony was simply to accord the President time to be driven over 400 kilometres from Lilongwe to Bolero, Rumphi.

It is easy to deduce that the Chief Secretary did not advise the president or his team against such a move, firstly changing the programme abruptly or advising him against travelling in such a manner when he had barely rested from similar travels to the South then returning from Salima a few hours before.

The inconveniences of arranging his travels notwithstanding, an event to be attended by a whole president must have required intensive preparations as well as gathering intelligence about the environment that he was about to enter.

Mutharika’s team, from the Chief Secretary to the State Residences Director General and the Malawi Police Service—whose members line up the whole length of the presidential route—should have known that the Synod of Livingstonia or traditional leaders would not appreciate their plans being turned upside down by the mere presence of a president and at short notice.

The Chief Secretary and Mutharika’s political advisors would have informed him that the Synod has never suffered fools—Bingu learnt this the hard way when he was forced to respond to a prayer several years ago.

The synod might be deemed a difficult and arrogant church but the blame cannot be squarely laid on their feet alone.

Unless, the government can tell this nation that our President is beyond listening to technical and expert advice, then there is a bigger problem.

The shameful drama that happened at the burial ceremony of Themba Chikulamayembe on Tuesday can only be rested at the foot of the office which should have planned and acted better: OPC.

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