Malawi public sector reforms: A case of form without substance?

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.

President Mutharika shows the report submitted by the commissioners . - Pic by Stanley Makuti

President Mutharika shows the report submitted by the commissioners . – Pic by Stanley Makuti

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.

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26 thoughts on “Malawi public sector reforms: A case of form without substance?”

  1. On says:

    The best article from Ntata so far

  2. chinkombaleza gumanyundo gowa says:

    kODI DECENTRALISATION YA MA PASSPORT, LICENSE SIZIKUSANGALATSANI? nDIZIMODZI ZA MAREFORM ZIMENEZITU NANGA MUDANDAULANJI? IS THIS NOT ASUBSTANCE? uPITE KUSUKULU YA MKAKA UKAPHUNZIRENSO IWE NTATA

  3. John says:

    You are so right ey.. Vuto la Amalawi nkumvesesa chizungu. Allan might have his own agendas. It might be true that he is bitter and all but the POINTS RAISED ARE UNDISPUTABLE!!!
    The very fact that he was in gvt means he assessed all the flaws and knows all the weaknesses. And for Chrissake what does the fact that he doesn’t leave in Malawi have anything to do with the points raised above? Inu okhala konkonu bwanji muli phwiii Muli brothers akuja ndalama zaboma ngati nzamake, kufuna kuba MSB bank inu ngati muli ntulo.!!! Za zii….! Ngati mulibe nfundo tangokhalani chete apa other than showing us your senseless loyalty to partisan politics.

  4. Kanyimbi says:

    Ntata, Do not waste our time. You are a fool, a coward useless asshole.

  5. Nachika says:

    Public Reform? Za ziiii.

  6. Chingaipe says:

    Mr Ntata, your article is well reasoned and crafted piece of both intellectual and literally dimension. You should not be worried about those whose voices are loud and want to shut you up. How so true that: The constitution, which Peter Mutharika himself was one of its drafters ( if I heard right), was simply a document that sought to limit the power of Dr. Banda and ensure that the new entrants on the political scene exacted proper vengeance on MCP. Nobody has articulated this point as clearly as you have done Allan…and so true! The question we should now be asking ourselves is: Is it going to be business as usual or are we now ready for a new revolution?

    I think Ntata, you epitomize the new wave of thinking in Malawi which for now has sadly been the arduous task of only one brave and patriotic Raphael Tenthani…

    Isn’t it ironic that barely three weeks after the writing on the wall…we can shout out loud ” Mene, meme, tekel, upharsin”!

  7. KUKHALA says:

    NATIONALWARE YA PITALA DIMENE A VALA MAYIWO

  8. Black Market says:

    We didn’t need to go to Asia to learn how to reform positively while within ourselves we have right answers duly outlined by Ntata, a very intelligent and no wonder Bingu noted this head. This guy must be incorporated in the reform process if the president is indeed serious with developing Malawi. Ntata u a my hero.

  9. black and Red church says:

    No one can insert a sharp object in the eyes.the lawmakers are so clever.they can not approve the law of which tomorrow will turn against them. We can keep on barking out here these crooks really know what they are doing.

  10. Youth League Chairman: Kawale 1 market says:

    What you have written Allan is but one facet of a a complex and multi dimensional problem. Yes, there are legal connotations to it. However, by large and far, existing problems in our public service are rooted in organizational development issues. We have a rotten organizational culture within public service: Getting to capital hill at 10am is a norm, a belief that if a colleague is stealing then there is nothing wrong in one doing the same, widespread ethos that there are no consequences for wrongdoing, e.t.c Well I have no doubt that u read quite a lot considerably. I have you given you leads that can be pursued further and write something comprehensive on the subject matter. The problem is, despite you being a civil servant at some point, you were out of touch with the realities of capital hill and it’s chain of subordinate structures below (absorbed chewing taxpayers money at state house courtesy of your golden prince status then – well Ben is having his time now). Good luck with your writing and critique

  11. chitengo says:

    zona man ths y we hv nacgate political interferance pa malawi pano ilipo heavy

  12. kyala nkota says:

    Great article. This man is genius at analytical work. well done and i hope this govt listens. this is simply it.

  13. soko says:

    Comment even chinua achebe in his book”whats the trouble with nigeria ” he was complaining that development in nigeria was being hampered because “no important position is being held by the most competent indivduals the country has”.this man ntata has said it all. In this scenario the not so good individuals have been tasked to craft policies to move malawi foreward, infortunately to be implemented by ” the cream” these intelligent, experienced and hardworking but born on the wrong side of malawi and are also politically not connected who have sought refuge in the private sector.

  14. In other countries like Zim, Botswana, RSA & others, a civil servant is one of the happiest employ. I don’t really undstnd what’s wrong with us here.

  15. chigawenga says:

    A well thought out analysis of what is wrong with the civil service reform. What we lack in this country is political will and the strength to truly curtail presidential powers. As pointed out in the above article it all starts with presidential powers. we need to seriously think about revamping our constitution to allow serious changes to take place. Political interference is the main problem why we have not gone any where. Love him or hate him Ntata has hit the nail on the head. you either deal with it or ignore it as you have always done. You can demonize this man but the fact remains the same he is telling it as it is. Sadly typical docile Malawians will dismiss his ideas as being bitter. lets think critically at least some one is bored enough to say it. whether we like it or not it is the truth.

  16. JB&Chakwera Supporter says:

    Political sharks! Which ones are these? Is Seodi White in that circle of political sharks too? Koma chaka chino tiseka!

  17. Comment ALLAN it would be wise enough if you first aproached government & give your views before critising on public, coz u din’t mention obout that in your colum, in this case we are taking u as a jerousy person coz u were not appointed to be part of the PSR comittee, NOTE: munthu wa nsanje mulungu samudalitsa;(

  18. Blessings says:

    What We Need is vision with acts not just policies without implementations shame on policies that cant materialise

  19. jongwe says:

    But this so called Ntata dog, son of a bitch was at State House doing business befire he was kicked out. Why didnt he champion the changes he is talking about today? This just shows how disgrunted and useless the man is now tgat he aint part of the crew running the state affairs. Its good to keep quite Mr Ntata than shame yourself by trying to be wise today when some years back you could have done ehat you are preaching here. This is noise by a toothless dog in the name of trying to voice out. Your time is gone man, do other things that will earn you and your family a living……shupiti.

  20. Njalayamalamuchiuno says:

    Points raised in this article are undisputably true if looked at with a sober mind. That is why some citizens questioned the idea of alligning certain appointments to a 5 year contract running concurrently with a presidential term.

    1. John says:

      You are so right ey.. Vuto la Amalawi nkumvesesa chizungu. Allan might have his own agendas. It might be true that he is bitter and all but the POINTS RAISED ARE UNDISPUTABLE!!!
      The very fact that he was in gvt means he assessed all the flaws and knows all the weaknesses. And for Chrissake what does the fact that he doesn’t leave in Malawi have anything to do with the points raised above? Inu okhala konkonu bwanji muli phwiii Muli brothers akuja ndalama zaboma ngati nzamake, kufuna kuba MSB bank inu ngati muli ntulo.!!! Za zii….! Ngati mulibe nfundo tangokhalani chete apa other than showing us your senseless loyalty to partisan politics.
      Good comment!

  21. Kaperere mgwerere says:

    Easier said than done. The author of the article does not even reside in Malawi. The problem in my opinion is not with the constitution. The problem is the culture of dependancy, irresponsibility, dishonesty and greed. The president is at liberty to choose professionals as his aids depending on how serious he is in running Governmemt.

  22. JB&Chakwera Supporter says:

    Now Allan you’re sounding sensible. And can you remind your readers that the one who was charged with the duty of our (as you correctly point out – flawed constitution) was APM himself.

    Those of us who are a little wiser saw the faults in the man from way back in the 90s.

    Now come on, that’s my boy Allan Z Ntata. One thing Allan, you have come to the right forum here, where we value substance and not tribalism.

  23. Chinyau says:

    True Jah Man

  24. mnyamata wa nzeru says:

    Ouch!! Left jab, right jab, left uppercut, right hook!! Reforms hit the canvass!! The ref counts to ten!! TKO. You got them there, son!! Nice one.

  25. Matokoso says:

    I think Ntata is broke and is counting on government arresting him and then he sue for billions for wrongful arrest.

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