Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) Tuesday took turns to hit out at the police for arresting and firing teargas at primary school pupils who rioted on Monday to demand the resumption of classes after their teachers went on strike.
Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda described the police action on the minors as illegal and immoral.
“According to the law, the police are not supposed to arrest children. We are giving you until Friday to resolve the issue of leave grants for the teachers, otherwise we will join the children on the streets. If you don’t resolve this matter by Friday, there will be no Parliament on Monday,” Chimwendo Banda charged.
Neither Minister of Education Emmanuel Fabiano nor Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe who were both in the House, responded directly to the issue of leave grants.
Dedza East MP, Juliana Lunguzi, said there was need for a motion in the House to force Fabiano out of Parliament to urgently attend to the critical issues of education which include the six-month closure of Chancellor College and leave grants for teachers in public schools.
Dowa West MP, Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi, said it was surprising that the Chancellor of the University of Malawi, President Peter Mutharika, could use taxpayers’ money to address students at Oxford University when his own students back home had stayed for six months following the prolonged closure of Chancellor College.
“There is no way the Chancellor should run away from his responsibilities. Is it because his own children are not in the country?” Kusamba Dzonzi queried.
However, Gondwe advised the MPs to tackle the issue with sober minds, saying neither emotions nor insults would resolve the matter.
“My children are about [Kusamba Dzonzi’s] age,” Gondwe told Parliament, to jeers from the opposition benches who observed this was the reason top government officials were not interested in Malawi’s education system.
Adding her voice on the matter, Salima North West MP, Jessie Kabwila, told Fabiano to resign immediately for failing to handle the six-month closure of Chancellor College.
However, Fabiano did not respond to the resignation call when he responded to the issues surrounding the closure of the college, a constituent college of the University of Malawi.
“Chancellor College has been closed for six months now, this is a deplorable situation for the students, the parents and the state,” Kabwila said.
She described the closure as six months of delayed development and accused the Democratic Progressive Party of a laissez-faire attitude towards education.
“The Minister of Education has failed. Students are just sitting at home, frustrated. Instead of resolving the matter, the government is encouraging the (warring) parties to go to court,” she said.
She described the government’s handling of the industrial dispute at the college as negligence and incompetence of the highest order.
“The education sector is in the hands of somebody who doesn’t care about education. The minister must resign,” Kabwila said.
In his response before Fabiano responded, Gondwe described the situation as beyond an industrial strike, saying the matter was complicated.
Lecturers at the college want harmonised salaries with their counterparts at the College of Medicine whose salaries were topped up in order to retain them after most of them were resigning, going abroad for greener pastures.
Gondwe said Chancellor College lecturers, just like any public and civil servants, would get a 10 percent salary increase from July 1.
“Let’s not make this as a political issue. This matter will be resolved. Let our children not suffer because of a 10 percent salary increase,” Gondwe said.
Fabiano told the House that discussions on the issue are on-going, saying the latest round of talks between the University of Malawi Council and the government on the one hand and the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union on the other are slated for this Friday.
“This matter will be resolved through discussions. As government, we believe discussion is the best way to resolve the issue not through the courts,” he said.