CounterJab: Malawi must review dopey contracts for political appointees 

Make no bones about it; hearing the horrendous amounts of taxpayer money paid to civil servants for wrongful termination is shocking. Shamefully, nobody learns from it.

Before we get into that, government’s bold decision to reform the civil service must be highly commended.

But the reforms aimed at making our civil service tick will be meaningless if political reform is not part and parcel of the whole exercise.

Despitie handing over over sword of command to General Maulana, Henry Odillo is still on pay roll while at home
Despitie handing over over sword of command to General Maulana, Henry Odillo is still on pay roll while at home

Since the introduction of multiparty politics 20 years ago, we have experienced  waves of lawsuits against unfair dismissals resulting in government paying unnecessarily huge sums of money to “victims”.

In almost all cases, the individuals affected are political adversaries of the ruling party. It is, of course, not uncommon for an incoming government to bring its own people to implement its agenda hence the never ending firings of senior public officials each time there is a new administration.

But there is a downside to this. Taxpayers pick up the expensive tab. While the fired functionary smiles all the way to the bank, it is the people who suffer as our broke government fails to meet some of its important obligations.

It is fair to say that the whole system has been corrupted in the sense that the government created “employment contracts” for certain positions such as Principal Secretaries, Ambassadors and others which in its own right is not bad idea but the issue is how these have been enforced.

We do not know what is contained in their confidential documents but what is clear with all of them is that performance is not factored in. What we have effectively are open ended contracts that benefit the employees only since they cannot be fired before their expiry date.

More often these appointees behave as politicians; they are highly toxic with the partisanship which is contrary to the basic civil service code.

The party in power will have its own people in positions which extend the time the party is supposed to be office. Experience tells us that no new government is interested in having political appointees of its predecessors around and it ends up firing them. As expected, they go to court which awards them millions of kwacha. The taxpayer foots the bill and business continues as usual.

The whole system is corrupt and rotten. In the past, did we not see someone who was clearly sick appointed to become CEO of a parastatal company? The person was in office for less than three weeks before going on sick leave until his death. The people of course paid for the funeral and death benefits to boot! Do not forget he was a government employee. How cool is that?

We have a government that cannot have a balanced budget yet it goes and spends what it does not have on things that would not benefit the majority of Malawians but those it fired when they were not supposed to be sacked in the first place.

Where is  prudence in Malawi paying its fired army general not to work until 2019, the year the current government’s term ends, when he could be put to good use?

What we are saying is that the civil service reform currently underway must look at these issues critically. Parliament must act too. One thing that could be considered is to have the maximum number of years on the contract not exceeding the president’s term. The president should be barred from appointing anyone in the public service whose term will go beyond his/her term of office.

The upside to this approach is that individuals who were appointed by the ruling party could be professional which could even prompt the incoming government — not obligated — to renew their contracts.

If having appointees sign contracts that do not exceed an administration’s term would not be acceptable, then the contracts should give the government power to terminate them without being sued. This option is not negotiable.

Take a step back and learn from the private sector elsewhere. A company can sign a contract with a famous public figure but while the world is told what the individual would earn at the end of the contract, there is no guarantee that the amount agreed would be earned if the person failed to perform or act to the expected standard. The company retains the power to terminate the contract once there is deviation from the agreed terms.

This happens where there is competition for these contracts. Malawi is not a country where there is shortage of talent for political appointments. We know that some of these individuals prostitute themselves, throwing away their hard earned resources to be considered yet the government allows itself not to have an upper hand when drafting and signing these dopey contracts which are too expensive for poor Malawians.

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