I am happy Peter Mitunda, until December 4, Dr Peter Mitunda, did not teach me at any stage of my academic life. Mitunda left Malawi for University of Salford in Manchester where he was supposed to study for a PhD in journalism and something related to journalism but, according to an enquiry at Poly, his registration was cancelled because of nonpayment of fees.
So, the conclusion of the principal of Polytechnic, Dr Charles Mataya and his team, was that Mitunda did not complete his PhD. Now, this is a faulty conclusion. You cannot register before paying fees or at best the two happen together. Universities in the UK are not like in Malawi where you can negotiate. If he did not pay fees, it means he did not register and if he did not register he did not study an inch. So, there is no question of not completing his studies because he did not start the studies.
This means during the about 15 months he was away, which is too short for a credible PhD, Mitunda was absconding from work, yet he was being paid as if he was on study leave. I pay tax every month and almost everyday I pay surtax and this money, part of it, was used to pay Mitunda while he was absconding from work. His case is different from a person who attempts a PhD and does not complete successfully.
It is not for sure the reason for Mitunda’s failure to study was nonpayment of fees. One cannot tell until we are really sure. But all this raises serious questions about the Polytechnic in particular and the University of Malawi in general.
How come an academic institution like Poly accepted that he had a PhD before seeing his papers? Chancellor College does not recognise one as Dr or as holding an MA, MSc or M Phil before seeing the paper. Why was the case different at Poly? Beyond this, how did he get a job at Malawi Institute of Journalism on the basis of his PhD yet he did not have one? Every interview, even within the university system, requires one to bring their papers. Academic staff who want to become directors of centres within the University of Malawi bring their papers to interviews whose panel is full of colleagues. What happened to Mitunda and Poly?
Once Mitunda was back, he became president of Polytechnic academic staff committee on welfare (Pascaw). By then Pascaw was working towards a 200 percent salary increment that resulted into a long strike at a time government was working hard to keep students in college.
Of course, Mitunda was by then at MIJ but one thing is clear here: a person who returns with a PhD cannot rush into labour politics, instead a PhD holder rushes into academic politics, taking over crucial courses like research methods and being a departmental anchor. In case of Mitunda this was crucial because then he was supposed to be the only PhD in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) at Polytechnic.
I have no reason to doubt that he has an MA in journalism but with the PhD saga, why should I believe he has an MA before I see one? The Polytechnic runs on tax money and the institution must be as transparent as it must be academic.
The Polytechnic made professional bodies like Media Council of Malawi to consult Mitunda on the basis of his PhD. What happens to all that work? Did it have to take The Story Workshop, an NGO, to discover Mitunda did not have a PhD? This means apparently the NGO is more serious than the University of Malawians in so far as academic qualifications are concerned! No wonder The Story Workshop has always impressed me.
The other day President Bingu wa Mutharika was castigating academic staff for demanding a 200 percent pay rise and we all sympathised with the men and women who teach and research. Mutharika said some of them are not qualified and we questioned the President for saying so when these men and women spend years learning and researching to become academics. Now one might begin to see the President had a point.
My plain view is that Dr Mataya has work to do. One fair assumption is that Mitunda’s issues is being treated with kid gloves because he is not the only one. As we say, if you live in a glass house don’t throw a stone.