President Peter Mutharika and his Vice President, Saulos Chilima, finally launched the long awaited Public Sector Reforms amid pomp and glamour, laced with all-you-want-to-hear political speeches at a well-attended function in the Capital City, Lilongwe. They claim the reforms are designed to make the public sector more responsive to the needs of Malawians.
They also claim that the reforms are meant create a more bustling and robust public sector that delivers superior value propositions in service delivery. As Chairman of the Commission set up to champion the reforms, Chilima is at the centre of the drive, and has so far done a great job in peppering the public and setting the right mood for the exercise.
He has said all the right and nice things about the reform drive; courted and sought buy-outs from various stakeholders including the private sector. Some people can be forgiven for actually thinking that the reforms are his brain-child.
However, the reforms are not a new phenomenon, and almost all governments since the dawn of independence in this country have had a go at reforming the public sector.
In fact, there have been 79 attempts at reforming the civil service in the past, but so far, and 50 years later, we are still talking about a lackluster, unresponsive and corrupt civil service that falls hard on its laurels every time it tries to move forward.
Too many theories have been furthered why such reforms have failed before, including the fact that previous reforms failed because they were championed by World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Chilima believes the latest attempt will be a success because “this time there is an overflowing political will, something which was lacking in the past.” Off-course these are political statements and Chilima is a politician. He would sound out of tune and hollow if he doesn’t throw in a political statement to spice up the occasion.
He is fully aware that reforming the civil service (especially the Malawian civil service) is a momentous task that has not even began, and he would soon be fully aware why others before him failed.
Chilima and his boss are aware that they have stuck out their heads on this one. They know they will be reference dogs of failure by future generations if the reforms don’t result in any meaningful action and progress.
As others have succinctly put it, political will is not nearly enough if the reformers don’t cultivate significant buy-out from those that must be reformed, or those that will be directly affected – the civil servants. There ought to be streamlined process and cross-linkages developed between the civil service and other sectors of the economy.
The reforms will also have to deal with high levels of resistance from those who feel threatened and are afraid of losing their ‘comfort zones’. Those that are taking advantage of the weak systems to loot government funds and further personal interests are also the least people happy with the reforms.
The reformers must find a way of purging the civil service out of its troublesome weevils. There are also some political crank heads within the civil service, some very senior, who are addicted to the old ways of doing things. They are the reason why significant resources must be invested in de-politicizing the civil service if any meaningful progress is to be made at reforms.
Just recently reports were flush in the media at how former Deputy Director General of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), now Principal Secretary (PS) for Ministry of Information and Tourism, Chimwemwe Banda has been throwing her weight at the public broadcaster, demoting and shuffling people around, apparently with the aim of punishing her perceived political opponents.
Chimwemwe Banda is said to have influenced the transfer of Peter Makawa, from MBC TV Lilongwe to Mema Studios. Another veteran MBC TV journalist, Charles Vintula has been moved from Lilongwe to Mzuzu. Vintula’s wife, Lisa, a photojournalist, has been sent on a forced leave alongside another veteran TV cameraman, Felix Washoni for reasons that have not been immediately established.
Another journalist, Dalitso Chimwala has been moved to Mangochi from Mzuzu. He would be joined in Mangochi by Ronald Amosi from Blantyre whilst another journalist, also from Blantyre, Blessings Kanache, will be trekking up north to Karonga. The shuffling has also seen Vincent Khonyongwa being promoted to the position of Controller of New at MBC radio, replacing Mervis Senga. Ngeme Kalilani is now Controller of News at MBC TV replacing Emmanuel Thuwala.
Chimwemwe Banda is also said to have been behind the appointment of former Nation Publication’s, journalist, Gideon Muthali to the position of Deputy Director at the Ministry. Munthali’s wife is a relative and close friend of Chimwemwe Banda. He is also said to be a close friend of Minister of Information, Kondwani Nankhumwa, and his appointment is believed to have been done for strategic reasons as he offers spin services to Nankhumwa and Banda.
Fresh reports also indicate that Mzati Mkolokosa has been promoted and is now Controller of Current Affairs and Online Services at MBC TV while one Harry Chuma, formally Controller of Programmes is now Controller of Technical Services.
Despite holding such a senior position, Chimwemwe Banda is said to be incompetent and inexperienced for the position. This is one classical example why some commentators are arguing that there should be significant paradigm shift in attitude and work ethic if the much touted reforms are to take any meaningful root. Otherwise the reforms would just be another narrative of so near and yet so far.
- Hastings Kanjoje is a political, social and economic commentator and writes for Nyasa Times in his personal right