The only thing I can commend about the much-publicized public reforms initiative being taken by the current administration is the idea itself. A resemblance of a sober-minded usage of power that truly leads to true economic prosperity requires a solid political foundation. An effective and efficient public service is crucial for the success of any government in this regard. However, what I have seen and heard so far in the government’s public service reform program is pitiable and meaningless.
I have followed keenly the rhetoric and the sound bites coming from the office of the President and the Vice President and I cannot help but conclude that the noise is much like a clanging cymbal, a matter of form without substance.
The reason for my holding this opinion is simple. The most important areas that need reform are conspicuously missing from the agenda of this program. For this reason alone, the program is, sad to say, empty and pointless, and not capable of achieving the desired results.
In the Malawian setting, the political foundation that gives birth to the public service is the Constitution. This is the document that gives the country its political rights, as well as presenting the foundation upon which Malawian economic prosperity can be built.
But the Constitution of Malawi is a flawed document that was forged in the heat of the anger and the vengefulness that was the multiparty movement, and fails to give the country the necessary platform upon which economic prosperity can be built.
For this reason, any talk of reform must first address this anomaly and include reviewing the constitution so that it becomes an instrument that promotes democracy and good governance, and not hinder it by promoting a quasi one-party state kind of government administration that piles all responsibility and power in the presidency and allows the party in power to traverse laws with impunity and very little accountability.
First and foremost, the Malawian Constitution puts politics above industry. This is a fundamental flaw that makes the Malawian political governance framework retrogressive and incapable of bringing commercial success to the country.
The fact that under the current dispensation, important appointments – and dismissals – that impact immensely on the country’s development all have to be sanctioned by the President- some directly and others indirectly serves to underline this point. It means that all the 86 parastatal organisations in the country report to the presidency, making them more mindful of political expediency than they are of commercial interest and business efficacy. In other words, the CEO of ESCOM, for instance, cares more about pleasing the country’s political masters than he does about ensuring that ESCOM is efficient and profitable, because his tenure as CEO, being at the mercy of the President, is dependent on whether the politicians in power are happy with him or not, and has nothing to do with customer satisfaction or the success of ESCOM.
If any public service reforms are to make any sense at all, such reforms must begin in the office of the presidency itself. Malawi’s political and administrative system needs to be reformed so that the presidency is able to tap fully into the advice of professionals that are capable of analysing policy and political issues dispassionately, rather than being advised mostly by political sharks that are simply thinking of advancing their own mostly financial agendas.
Creating a public service that fosters economic growth means reducing political influence in the public service and especially ensuring that there’s no political and administrative influence in industry and commerce. It necessarily requires for the president’s powers of appointment to be curtailed, ensuring that appointments are based only on merit and not political patronage. It necessitates curbing or controlling the overreaching, and inevitably economically sabotaging, influence of politics in every aspect of the country’s socio-economic and commercial framework.
Furthermore, certain obvious silliness in the public service framework needs to be immediately reviewed. It is ridiculous, for instance, that the constitution requires the appointment of the Director of the Anti-corruption Bureau to be approved by the Public Appointments Committee of parliament once it has been made by the president, and yet a serving director, having gone through such a rigorous appointment process can easily be dismissed at the president’s whim and fancy. The examples, however, are endless, and include offices such as those of Inspector General of Police, Director Of Public Prosecutions and the Auditor General just to mention a few.
Additionally, important appointments such as board members of various government organs and bodies, chief executive officers of statutory corporations and principle secretaries of government ministries are all at the whim and fancy of the Presidency, which we know for sure means being at the fancy of anyone from the ruling political party heavyweights, to the President’s personal assistants and even body guards.
Furthermore, it should surely be useful to have in a public service reform program, a drive to set out qualifications and terms of reference for all senior public service positions- what qualifications are required for these positions, and what the terms of reference and the expected deliverables are. It surprises me to note that for positions of minister or principal secretary, we have individuals that have doctorates and individuals that have only MSCE certificates; individuals that have worked in the public service for over thirty years, and individuals for whom the appointment as principal secretary or minister was their first public service appointment!
It is the prevailing constitutional and administrative order that has encouraged the appointments of this nature, appointments so crucial to the country’s economic development, yet made on the basis of political patronage or tribal or nepotistic considerations rather than entirely on merit.
The opening up for participation in the public service of new faces with vibrant and innovative ideas on how to redefine the country’s political and economic goals is also crucial. True public service reform will open the door for perceptive Malawians that will ensure participation of individuals with fresh and youthful ideas in the public service by creating clear opportunities, encouraging initiative, and providing resources and encouragement.
Finally, painful as it maybe, a meaningful public service reform program must have within it a framework aimed at cutting the umbilical cord connecting the country to donors and making it aid dependent. It is vitally important for Malawi to seek a way of running this country that will not depend on donor aid.
If Malawi is going to achieve true sovereignty, a strategy for curtailing the heavy dependence on donor support needs to be devised. Talk about this in a public service reform program. Show me a reform program that includes the presidency as an area desperately needing reform, and addresses all or at least some of the issues I have raised above, then perhaps I will concede that we have indeed a government that is thinking progressively about development and the welfare of Malawians for now and the hereafter.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :