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High Court nullifies improperly-appointed communications regulatory board

(MISA/IFEX) - On 13 July 2007, the High Court in Blantyre nullified the composition of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) board because its members did not qualify for appointment.

In his ruling, Judge Frank Kapanda said it was wrong for President Bingu wa Mutharika to appoint the board members while excluding old members of the board. Kapanda issued an order stopping the board members from exercising their functions and another requiring the President to comply with the Communications Act.

The Act prohibits the President from appointing political activists. It also requires that any change to the composition of the board should be gazetted and that at least half of the membership be re-appointed for another term in office.

Joy Radio questioned the legality of MACRA's board in early 2007 and argued that, among other issues, the appointment of the members was not gazetted as required by law.

President Bingu wa Mutharika suspended MACRA's board on 4 April 2005 before dissolving it on 8 April the same year. The President accused the board of "stinking" and replaced it with a new board on 2 March 2006 whose chairperson was once an executive member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Joy Radio also argued that some members lacked qualifications, expertise and experience in any field of post and telecommunications, broadcasting, frequency planning, law, economics, business, finance, public administration and public affairs.

Joy Radio's lawyer, Ralph Kasambara also argued that the board did not retain old members as is required by the Communications Act, for continuity's sake. Joy Radio is owned by former state president Bakili Muluzi and has had several running battles with MACRA ever since the licensing body wanted the radio to surrender its broadcasting license for review.

MISA Malawi is of the opinion that the MACRA board should be appointed through public nominations and should be answerable to Parliament and not to the Minister of Information.

"We feel the current scenario, where the board and its chairman is appointed by the President, compromises the regulator's independence as currently the Minister of Information appoints the director general and confirms the appointment of the deputy", says MISA Malawi.

"The best solution will be an amendment to the Communications Act. The section that gives the power to the President should be removed and replaced with another that calls for an independent appointment of board members and recruitment of senior staff at MACRA", MISA Malawi says, adding that the nullification of the current composition of the board by the High Court does not offer a lasting solution to the problems of partiality and government interference that have dogged MACRA.

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