Why is OPC dithering on Kalebe, Kutsaira? ‘Cut the Chaff’

In Weekend Nation newspaper, award winning columnist  Ephraim Munthali of the  ‘Cut the chaff‘ has argued that we  do not want politicians masquerading as public servants implementing government programmes . Here if the full articled as it appeared:

Ted Kalebe is a jolly good fellow. I know him fairly well, having worked with the seasoned economist and bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance’s local development financing arm—the Local Development Fund Technical Support Team (LDF-TST)—where he has been its executive director.

I and the former principal secretary and Cabinet minister in the Bingu wa Mutharika administration had an excellent working relationship.

I don’t know Bintony Kutsaira very well except that at some point Mutharika made him Deputy Minister of Agriculture and later, in the twilight of the late eccentric leader’s life, was head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

While at NIS—probably under the influence of Hollywood espionage movies—Kutsaira took to donning voluminous jackets, coats as well as dark glasses.

Kalebe

Kalebe

In his menacing look, the then powerful Kutsaira could be seen shoving around bodies during presidential functions like a character in a bad spy movie.

Now, I have never seen the head of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), let alone the Secret Service chief or Britain’s M16 boss as conspicuous about their spying activities as Mr. Kutsaira was.

But hey, everyone is entitled to his or her way of doing things, including the man who reduced Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba from ‘the talking computer’ to a ‘calculator’—a direct jab at what Kutsaira believed was the veteran spin master’s declining oratory skills.

Today, Kutsaira is a director of something obscure in the Ministry of Agriculture where, rumour has it; the Joyce Banda administration dumped him to allow him see out his spy chief contract without an immediate payout, a make-them-rich quick tendency that taxpayers have learned to hate these days.

I digress.

The point is that I have nothing against these two fellows. They are well educated Malawians who deserve jobs wherever they choose, including in the public service.

But you cannot be a public servant and be an active politician at the same time—that is eating the cake and hoping to keep it as well for a future bite.

Both Kalebe and Kutsaira are active Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members and, to prove their bona fides, they happily contested (but lost unfortunately) for leadership positions during the party’s recent convention.

According to Malawi’s public service regulations, these two should have immediately left the civil service because government workers are supposed to serve people of various backgrounds, including from different political parties with impartiality.

The concern is: Can a partisan officer serve all Malawians impartially? For civil servants to remain impartial they must be independent of any authority outside government and their behaviour must mirror that independence.

Now, how can Kalebe and Kutsaira be independent when they also owe allegiance to an outside body, in this case the DPP?

Even if they were members of the People’s Party (PP), which is also an authority outside government, my frown would be as deep as it is now.

The question of impartiality is critical here because it means that the civil servant should be prepared to embrace tolerance and restraint, especially when it comes to wrestling with political convictions and/or considerations. Can a political public servant be tolerant of policies and programmes that run counter to his or her party’s? Can they serve with fairness a known sympathizer of a different party or competitor for the same political office they are aspiring to with impartiality?

The civil servant does not and must not have the luxury of taking sides or blurting their convictions as private citizens publicly or promote certain policies and programmes on party lines or for the political benefit of their parties and themselves as politicians.

Take, for example, Ted Kalebe. As head of the LDF, Kalebe has enormous resources under his control—billions and billions of kwacha that have to be channelled to district councils and communities for development endeavours.

District commissioners—who implement LDF-funded projects and manage these resources at council level—respect him so much.

Now, imagine that Kalebe decides to stand as a parliamentarian in his constituency while he remains the LDF-TST chief executive officer.

Would it be difficult for him to, say, tell the DC to divert two teachers’ houses from another constituency into his so that he is seen to be more developmentally active?

This would come at the expense of the District Development Plan (DDP) which will have failed to construct two teachers’ houses as per plan, thereby skewing development outcomes.

I am not suggesting that he has done this. In fact, during my stay at the ministry I do not recall him using his position for his own political benefit. I am only saying it is possible, especially as we head towards the May 2014 elections.

It is always human to put personal, including political, considerations ahead of the national good, something that public servants are not allowed to do otherwise, they must be told to leave. But why has the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) as well as its Department of Human Resource Management and Development not acted on the two politicians and others who may still be in the public service when they are active politicians?

We surely do not want politicians masquerading as public servants implementing government programmes.

The stakes are too high and the public good too precious to allow this to continue.

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