No ‘buddy-buddy’ reforms in Malawi: Tenthani’s Muckraking

Reform is not pleasant,  but grievous; no person can reform themselves without suffering and hard work, how much less a nation?Thomas Carlyle

It now looks like some light years back but sometime in 1993 I was on my first salaried assignment somewhere beneath the hills of Dedza when one Chakufwa Tom Chihana was in town.

Malawi Vice President Chilima: Reforms

Malawi Vice President Chilima: Reforms

That was the time Chihana had seen off his treason trial, conviction and sentence and, thanks to the brave – if not foolhardy, nay, dare-devil – Catholic bishops, Malawians were bracing up for multiparty politics.

Chihana had made the most from the bishops clarion call; he jumped on the next flight home from a conference in Lusaka, Zambia, and made sure all important radio stations, including the BBC and Radio RSA – as it was known then, knew of his every step.

His April 6, 1992, arrest on the tarmac of Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe was heavily choreographed. He knew the MCP agents would not let him finish reading his epistle. In fact I guess his wife, Christine, did not even prepare a meal for him for she knew he was not coming home.

But, as the hackneyed word goes, the rest is history – Dr. Banda succumbed to the referendum calls, thanks largely to the suicidal bishops and Chihana’s dramatics.

So the Chihana I encountered in Dedza in 1993 was the presidential candidate who was surely set to win had elections gone ahead as scheduled in December of that year. Chihana was surely the ‘man of the moment’.

I am recalling my first encounter with Chihana because of what he said about civil service reforms. In his typical trade unionist down-to-earth speech, Chihana said something close to, “We have 120,000 people in the civil service; most of them just go to work to play bawo. When I become president I’ll trim the civil service by half!”

Of course, the speech drew a thunderous applause and hand-clapping. But, as a temporary civil servant myself, I could see some of the hands freezing in mid air. “Is this guy saying he will fire half of us? He must be crazy!” I could almost eavesdrop some of the people thinking.

Of course, the elections were shifted to the next year giving a chance to Bakili Muluzi and his band of populists to outsmart Chihana who was seen as leading an elitist group of people. The tribal card and strength in numbers, of course, also played a huge part and Muluzi, the most vilified of the candidates, carried the day. In fact the heroic Chihana was beaten into third place.

But how much did his plans to reform the civil service by trimming it by half contribute to his loss in the elections? Surely many people like the laissez-faire way of doing things in the civil service, therefore, you may not harvest many friends if you start tinkering with the way “we do things here”.

The reason I am evoking the Chihana’s Dedza ‘I’ll fire half of you’ speech is Vice President Saulos Chilima’s blue-print for the reformation of the civil service.

Although Simbi ya Moto might have lost a few votes because some people might have been jittery he would make them jobless and destitute, he would be vindicated later.

Muluzi, when he became the first multiparty president, commissioned a number of civil service reforms. The Chatsika Report and the Jana Commission stand out. Both point to one and the same thing – the civil service is bloated.

While Chihana had a figure as to how many civil servants he would send packing, Muluzi thought making 60,000 people jobless was not the best way to win votes. So both the Chatsika and Jana reports are quietly gathering dust somewhere on Capital Hill.

And here comes Angoni Saulos, fresh-faced and coming from the results-oriented private sector. What his commission has found may be couched in different nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. But, if truth be told, they may not be too different from what Chatsika and Jana unearthed before him.

The fact may not exactly be that the civil service is bloated. It may be distribution of staff that is disjointed. You may find, for instance, that there may be six drivers assigned to one officer to drive one car and five secretaries to serve the same officer on only two computers. And yet the officer has no accountant or auditor.

Those people you see at Capital Hill playing bawo at 8 o’clock, going to lunch at 11, coming back at 2 and knocking off at 4, are not exactly lazy; they simply have nothing to do.

The Saulos commission should freeze new recruitments and critically study distribution of human resources in the civil service. There are some departments that are over-staffed while others are under-staffed. Many experienced civil servants are even ‘warehoused’ and, therefore, rendered idle because of politics.

A serious reform may not necessarily go down to sacking people; some people just need to be shuffled around.

Of course, there may be some positions that will be found redundant because of age and qualification/competence of officers and, of course, advances in technology. For instance, in this day and age you can no longer be using type-writers and the age of the magical fax machine is quickly going on the wane.

The Mutharika administration should not be afraid of how many votes its ticket might lose if it sends a couple of thousand civil servants packing. If they are clever the affected staff may appreciate the ‘one-off’ compensation which they may invest in something useful than spending hours playing bawo on the grounds of Capital Hill.

I am not sure if the number of civil servants is still at 120,000 and to implement meaningful reforms we needs to trim it by half, meaning putting some 60,000 people on the dole.

But what I am sure of is that we can do without some of these posts in the civil service. A village of 100 Principal Secretaries is clearly wasteful. Very few crucial ministries require more than one PS.

But, like I said above, some of these reforms were already proposed. But politics affected their implementation. I know every politician will do anything to win the next election and sacking thousands of civil servants may not be that attractive an idea.

But, come to think of it, if quickly and meticulously implemented, these reforms may actually work in the administration’s favour. A properly functioning civil service will boost goods and service delivery in the country. Additionally, if properly compensated those that may be laid off may improve their livelihoods and, by extension, the national economy.

And come 2019 people may say here is a government that was not afraid to get dirty for the betterment of the entire country.

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52 thoughts on “No ‘buddy-buddy’ reforms in Malawi: Tenthani’s Muckraking”

  1. Bright Jere says:

    No to flawed reforms:
    1. Chilima is an elected representative of the DPP ,therefore his interests are in protecting the DPP manifesto in government. How could such a person recommend the dismissal of public servants whom he found in post?
    2.Results of the Reform should have been presented to Parliament before being approved by the president.
    3. Why should a new ministry be created to conduct public sector reforms when this should have been under the Department of Human Resources?
    4. What criteria will be followed to establish the 56 PSs to be dismissed? Is this not a way of conducting political cleansing in government?
    With these observations, I say no to Chilima’s reforms.

  2. jimmy kanzati says:

    success comes when one learns to take risk decisions. What makes Malawi to remain at this same level after fifty years of indipendence is because important but risk decisions are always avoided or ignored. How I wish to imagine those who invented aeroplane and how first flying experience was like, think of the possible engine failure and any malfunctioning of the plane whilst in the air. Today people are enjoying flights because others made risky decisions. M’boma muli nkhalamba zambirimbiri others were recalled to continue working on month to month basis as if young blood is not there. Tachotsani aliyense wa server above 20 years, distribute staff equally in civil service, harmonise salaries. Controll appointments of senior gvt officer. Improve conditions of service including focusing on productivity. I feel like harmonisation may be biased concept ena akungosewera bawo akalandire ndalama zofanana ndi wina amene has only 15-20 min lunch break. This will be unfair. Mr vice president you are on the right track do not retreat neither surrender any change is alway painful it only pays when people conerned persevere.

  3. Saini says:

    I do not like the thinking of laying out 60+ from the civil servant are you suggesting that they should go for hand out issued by politican or free fram input .check it out

  4. VIFUSI says:

    ds z alwayz new

  5. Chiswamphika says:

    Angoni Ralph mwawunikila,wokumva wamv wosamva akhale.The good think I like with Angoni Saulos is that he likes going for positive risks and its my hope this reform process will work out

  6. chinkombaleza gumanyundo gowa says:

    Nkhaniyo ndayikonda kwabasi. Yafotokozamo ubwino komanso kuipa kwa reform. Koma kwambiri kwa ine ungachuluke ndi ubwino. AQnthu apatsidwe zawo akayambe mabusiness osiyana siyana ngakhale ulimi. Onse angachotsedwe apange compani imodzi ya ulimi. Aliwona phindu lochuluka kuposa kukhala pa ntchito mboma. Achimwene mboma anthu ambiri amangodya ndalama zamisonkho. Okhoma nkumabvutika kupereka msonkho ochuluka munthu opanda phindu. MA secretary mbwembwembwe. Zonsezi ndi nkulu uja adayambitsa kuchoka pa Kamuzu.

  7. Chulu says:

    Just sack all other tribes from civil service. Mutsale angulu ndi angoni muzidyera limodzi makoswe ndi anyani. Oh, ndinayiwala, ndi asena, abale ake a Kasaila adzibweretsa a gondwa ndi ng’azi.

  8. kabomba says:

    Entrepreneurship, resourcefulness, financial independence and creativity are not Malawian character traits.Malawians are JOB-SEEKERS by nature. Thus, laying off 60,000 lazy people will create 60,000 lazy and jobless people. even with a golden handshake, however generous, will just create 60,000 more people with money to spend at drinking joints and prostitutes. yes, that will be their contribution to the economy-increased booze and uhule sales for a short time! then what?? It is very instructive to know that the citizens of a country reflect the character of the country itself. Malawi as a nation is extremely financially dependent on donors, non-resourceful, begging, and has not been able to come up with any export oriented industry and wean away from a dying tobacco industry for the last 50 years! All the many economists in govt. travel all over the world for seminars on economic development for the last 50 years and have come up with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Why, you might ask? becoz they are just as intellectually lazy and non-creative as the rest of Malawians! You are what you are- just leave the 60000 sitting playing bawo becoz beieve me, there is no other solution! Character is fate. If you were born a loser genetically, you will die a loser. Case closed.

  9. Mickey Mouse says:

    @1 you are full of S.IT!

  10. Bozwell Makaranga says:

    Amongst the key features we require of a civil service is one that is professional, objective and impartial. Having noted that in recent years tribalism has been the sure qualification one needs to ascend to positions in the civil service, how can we expect to have a civil service that is professional and objective? Are you telling me that you will have no fear to get rid of the many Lomwes who have assumed positions on the basis tribal lineage? Are you telling me you will have a commission that will hire based on ability and not quota? The whole exercise is a total waste of resources unless you appoint civil servants based on meritocracy. That means do not look at where an individual comes from but rather what he / she is capable of contributing. This requires that an individual is ably qualified and experienced for the post.

  11. Black Market says:

    The Chatsika and Jana reports might miss ICT which is a big tool for improving performance of an enterprise. Should Saulos be brave enough by inducing vibrant ict, Malawi will be a star performer and DPP will win with landslide in 2019 coz our economy will be improved to the satisfactory of many voters provided merit takes its course in the reform. Not bad idea but risky.

  12. KATAKWE says:

    Good points. Will look to the implementations of these findings. “Truth shall set you free” our concern should be what’s best for Malawi. Let’s keep our tribal cards in our pockets. The pain we suffer today is for all. Magesti, madzi etc zikuvuta Malawi yonse. WE ARE MALAWIANS FIRST!

  13. Victor Chidyaonga says:

    Somebody failed to head. A ministry.How can he lead a. country?

  14. Galu wapananji Mwale says:

    Mmmmh! Mavuto akadalipo ku malawi

  15. Masoambeta says:

    The civil service trimming is far overdue.
    Malawi is hell bent on politics because there is nothing to do apart from clapping hands and stealing from whatever jobs people have.
    There is no prospect with the amount of corruption and social loafing in our civil service.
    The problem is that nothing will be professionally implemented because of nepotism and cronyism.

  16. I greatly agree with you,Mr Tenthani.I got a chance one day to see my bosses at Captal Hill and noticed four major bad conducts.Namely:
    1.The capital hill worker were coming too late at work hence the offices being opened at very late tiome.
    2.Most people at capital hill were speaking Tumbuka language more especially Ministry of Education an I have no idea with other ministries.
    3.Most people were just chatting out side the offices while others inside the offices leaving the clients helpless.
    4.knocking off before actual time of going home more especially ladies.
    With these remarks I greatly dont welcome 50:50 campagn and I also see a certain tribe favouring its side which to me is not good at all.

    1. vindere says:

      What’s wrong in speaking tumbuka? What language did you want them to speak?

  17. Jacob chitseko says:

    Well done vice presindent and APM we need a kind of service that can deliver please send some to DC’s offices and decentralise some duties from now on wards sucrutenise the jobs and human resource to avoid repeting the same thing. Let it be shown that this is government of pple at heart

  18. TISA says:

    sack and give tione zochita wogulisa kachewere kumadya bwino koma wogwira mmboma kusowa ufa

  19. Dick says:

    You must tread carefully. Ralph, may seem to be giving you good advice and coz you are coming from the private sector background, this may seem to be a good advice!! reshuffling could be the best!! Already we have high rates of unemployement and the government is the largest employer. As a government, it has also responsibility to create employment opportunities

  20. Likoma Economist says:

    Indeed our civil service is like an emplotment bureau. All sorts of junk is there. Over half of the civil service literaly does nothing except complaining of the low wages and engaged in some kind of cashgate – be it through dubious and numerous workshops or direct stealing.

  21. Tnt says:

    pse vp,sack those playing bawo and employ more prim & sec sch teachers instead since most of the secondary & prim schools are either understaffed or have unqualified teachers, thereby lowering the quality educ

  22. M'ngoni wa pa Ntcheu says:

    The idea sounds logical and benefincial, but the problem lies with this nepostic and tribalist president and dpp thugs. They will trim all other tribes from government leaving the only snake and rat eating lomwes.
    Hokoyoo!! Take Cover!!!

  23. GRM says:

    I really do not see how we the Lomwes and not ngonis are linked to Tenthani’s well argued piece?

  24. Kamdondo says:

    Kkkkkkkkkkl! Koma inu!

  25. Bakala Maluzi says:


    You could dig more. I strongly think there is need for more people to be laid off. Let me explain: I know of an office whereby all the officers have at least a bachelors degrees and all of them know how to drive. Does it make sense to employ drivers for each of these energetic boys and girls, who know to drive? In the day and age when there are coffee machines in offices and water kettle for preparing tea, do we still need messengers? Do we still as many messengers in a day and age when every officer has a laptop and they use the internet to share files? And to say the list, drivers and messengers constitute a very big portion of the service.

  26. Trevor manyi says:

    “Light years” is a unit of distance not time, Tenthani. What has happened to journalistic standards in Malawi?

  27. tzude2 says:

    Noso gud an idea

  28. DIE HARD says:

    The reforms should trickle down to presidential convoy. I feel people exaggerate things. the president just need two official cars. two security cars. ambulance and one for personal assistance with two lead bicycles

  29. chilungamo says:

    Govt is failing to pay gratuity to those who retired normally for one yr now. How can they pay the retrenched half of civil service. Visit pension office at capital and witness what retirees are going through

  30. dineo says:


  31. Chithumwa says:

    Achitedi trim yo kaya pension koma apatsidwe ndalama zao pompo pompo pasapitenso nthawi.Tsiku lomwelo akapatsidwa kalata yoti akapume azichita attach cheke cha ndalama zao, tikumvana kodi?

  32. Namaranya Namakhwa says:

    Mbuzi iwe,mtumbuka wachabe chabe,ngakhale timadya mbewa tikulamulabe,for the second time,atumbukanu mukhalila kulika pyo,simudzalamulira dzikoli kudzikonda too much,federation my foot.Idiots!!!

  33. Nkhombokombo says:

    Apa a Chilima atsathamangire kuchotsa anthu ai, ayambe kaye kuona kaye ma udindo onse oyenela ndi ofunika muBoma, aonenso anthu oyenela ma udindoo, ngati ena akalamba, ayike anthu ena a nsinkhu kuti aphunzile nchitoyo kwa midalayo. Mwina mmene akunenela kuti a chotse ma PS 40, mwina ena aio akadali amphamvu oti angathandize munjila yina awasunge anthu amenewa nawagwiri tse nchitobe kusiana kuwachotsa nwapatsa ndalama zambirimbiri pakamozi pomwe Boma likufuna ndalamazo pakali pano. Kuchotsa anthu pano mwina kungazetse chipwilikiti ndi kufa kwa Boma. Yetsetsani kupanga zinthu zothandiza anthu osati kuchulutsa malova pa town.

  34. victor chintengo says:

    Let saulosi and his freinds root out corruption and wastage of state resources first,otherwise these fucking politicians are one and the same peroid!

  35. mohammed malinga macheya says:

    be carefull enough when doing it otherwise U will see only lomwes on front line

  36. pa squecy says:

    what you are proposing is very scary

  37. Ayaya says:

    Truth Shall Set U Free, you and a stupiud idiot. From your comment you cant hide it. aA horrible IDIOT. You are a useless old fool clinging on to positions in the Civil Service. Dead wood will go irrespective of their tribe. cant you think rationally for once. @least Alomwe dont believe in kuzazana pa company ngati atumbuka inu. Matongo ako.

  38. Trimming civil servis is not bad but mind you wth ethnicity which has surfaced wth DPP govt these days. Quota system & witch hunting is the order of the day. Mr Tenthani mwaiwala za federalism? Quota system? Northerners will be the victims of civil service reform!

  39. Wellington Chatepa says:

    It is all a question of mindset, paradigm shift and change management. What pains many of us however is that whatever savings the system is craving for will be abused. Remember the Privatisation revenues and the HIPC savings, who benefited from them? Now we are talking about NAC’s misplaced funding. How about those devilish acts that went unnoticed? Dziko Liri mmanja mwa Agalu ili.

  40. chefourpence says:

    Truth Shall free you! Shame on you! So you would have ambwiyako do the trimming? Thats the greatest fear you swines up there have! If you make up 80% of the Civil Service then expect a good chunk of your tribesmen to go. Ralph has written a fine article here and has made wise suggestions. Anyway, we understand your fears….but its a fact of life, othyola tiyi nawo akuphunzira and watch your backs nitwits!

  41. muthu otani osasamba? says:

    Asakoze zithu chifukwa azaluza masakho a 2019?
    Iwe Tenthani dziwa kuti ufulu omwe tili nawo lero ena anataya moyo wawo.

    chilima akupanga zothandiza dziko osati za ku nyumba kwake ai.

    Chifukwa chake ndimati iweyo Tenthani ndiwe mbuzi ya muthu ndi maganizo ako

    Kusamba ayi, kusita ayi, tsoka lakenso zovala zimagula iwe kaunjika.

    Simukusiyana ndi azathu amagona ma bench musika.

  42. bons says:

    tumbukas and chewas will go and lomwes will control everything

  43. Marioshona man says:

    Tumbukas, Why always attacking the lomwes ?it only depict how segregative you are. Never shall Malawi have a leader from your tribe. We are observing you seriously.
    Tenthani, that is a point.

  44. Komanso says:

    Cabinet is full of Lhomwes, same is heads of statutory orgs, you will see only other tribes civil staff will be affected by this reform

  45. Chinyani says:

    Tenthani for the first time backing Government!! Peter’s K50000 at work hahahahaha ndalama simanama.

  46. Truth shall free you says:

    Be careful Thethani as trimming the civil service without proper oversight with give Mutharika to sack all other tribes but the Lomwes so we could end up with only rat eating Lomwes in the civil service!

    1. Alex Nkatha says:

      You are so right. We have to be very careful for Mutharika could definately take advantage of reforms to get rib of non Lomwes and we could end up with the rat eater Lomwes dominating the Civil Service, army etc. The reforms have to be very carefully thought out and implemented.

    2. o says:

      Tribalism, nepotism, regionalism and all the isms will not take you anywhere. Stop it. Find out who Jesus is. Trust me, once you know Him, you will never waste time thinking that you are a tumbuka or lhomwe or chewa or ngoni or sena or yao. We are all human beings.

    3. Mirella K says:

      Ayayayaya kona yaaa!

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