Let me begin by an honest admission: I get irritated whenever I get assigned by my bosses to cover ministerial functions.
The irritation has to do with how I grew up, I guess. My father always taught me, by showing not just talking, the precious value of time. He was always on time; at work, church and the farm. As a result, I learnt to keep time. A lesson from childhood, they say, remains stuck to your brain like glue.
That lesson cultivated in me a man who is dangerously impatient with people who don’t keep time.
This is why I passionately hate covering ministerial functions because most Malawian ministers, I can even testify this in a court of law, do not keep time.
So it happened on Tuesday last week when my editor, Ephraim Munthali, assigned me to cover the interface between Public Service Reform Commission and the private sector. Vice-President Saulos Chilima was guest of honour. The function was starting at 8.30 am and he was assigning me around 7.35 am.
I could not believe when, after stepping out of the car, I saw the entire security detail of Chilima already packed outside the hotel.
So this guy is already here? That was my immediate question. I ran to the venue of the meeting.
I found three other journalists sitting at the lounge—waiting. After a wave of greetings, Pilirani Phiri—the veep’s personal assistant—joined us though visibly dejected. He complained about the veep’s arrival when no one from the private sector had arrived.
My immediate response was not to blame the private sector’s lateness. Rather, I expressed shock that Chilima came on time—something quite unusual with senior government ministers. My earlier feeling of irritation to cover the function, immediately, got washed away. I became inspired.
At around 8.47, the private sector, one by one, started to arrive. The room was all packed by 9:15 am. Then Chilima trooped into the room unannounced—traditionally a senior government official’s arriving is announced so that we all stand in advance.
He came carrying his laptop bag—traditionally everything about senior government officials is carried by a congress of his or her security detail and personal assistants.
He went straight to his desk, unpacking the laptop from the bag. As we stood in honour of his coming, he told everybody to sit as he made his way to connect the laptop to the overhead projector. There was a visible aura of surprise
Then he spoke: “Welcome ladies and gentlemen, can Mr Kaferapanjira lead in the introduction of members present; as I work out the technology issues here.”
Chancellor Kaferapanjira, chief executive officer of the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI), began by apologising—something which I know is a usual job for ministers. Whenever you go to minister’s function, they always begin their address by apologising for coming late. But on Tuesday, we saw the private sector apologising for coming late. What a way to teach and reform the people!
The organisation of the meeting too, was quite against tradition. Chilima was his own master of ceremony. He did not read a prepared speech, but gave a PowerPoint presentation that, judging by the masterly of its flow, was prepared by him. He remained in the meeting, agreeing and disagreeing with the private sector on various issues until it was over.
I am not trying to make a hero out of Chilima. I am just celebrating the kind of leadership this century demands. It’s good he is chairperson of the reform commission because he is pushing reforms with actions, not words. He is the reform.
- The article first appeared ‘On the Frontline’ in the Nation newspaper.