University Sues the State and Industrial Tribunal to enforce President Mutharika's agenda

Challenge to academic freedom and open public debate continues as Council of the University of Malawi (UNIMA) is keen to enforce President Mutharika's agenda of punishing the lecturers boycotting teaching.

In a bizarre move, UNIMA has sued the State and Industrial Relations Court (IRC) over a ruling the court gave ordering the Council to pay lecturers their April salaries.

High Court judge Joseph Manyungwa on April 26 allowed the UNIMA Council to commence judicial review proceedings before a single judge where the State and IRC are respondents.

IRC deputy chairperson Jack Nriva on April 15 ordered the UNIMA Council to pay lecturers their April salaries and ruled that the lecturers boycotting classes were not on strike. The council obeyed the IRC ruling and paid the lecturers their April salaries.

The council had in March announced it was going to withhold April salary for lecturers who refused to return to classes after government failed to assure them of their academic freedom.

But the council is unhappy with the IRC decision, wants it nullified by the High Court and implement its decision to stop paying lecturers their salaries.

Council argued that IRC decision to determine lecturers’ substantive application without hearing its side was illegal, unconstitutional and unreasonable as it amounted to a denial of the council’s right to be heard.

The lecturers, before IRC made its ruling, had argued through their lawyer Lucius Kwakwala that the council’s decision to freeze salaries and benefits amounted to unfair labour practice and was unlawful.

The lecturers started boycotting classes in mid February to demand for assurances on academic freedom which they felt was threatened when one of their colleague, Dr Blessings Chinsinga, was summoned by Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito over an example he gave in one of his classes on the causes of uprisings that toppled governments of Tunisia and Egypt.

As the academic freedom controversy has swirled and grown many observers are worried about the latest government and University Council moves in the battle to destroy Malawi's university education.

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