Malawi President to launch public service reforms agenda : The analysis

After several months of work, the results are out. Malawi President Peter Mutharika will this Wednesday launch the Malawi Public Service Reforms programme to set in motion recommendations that have been put in place in order to bring efficacy to public service delivery.

President Mutharika with his dutiful Vice-President Saulos Chilima providing a rare glimpse of political leadership to deliver his boss’ vision.
President Mutharika with his dutiful Vice-President Saulos Chilima providing a rare glimpse of political leadership to deliver his boss’ vision.

A statement issued by  acting presidential press secretary Timpunza Mwansambo says Mutharika will launch the programme in the Malawi capital, Lilongwe, at 10 o’clock in the morning.

“During the launch, the President will also sign Organizational Performance Agreements (OPAs) with selected ministries including the Ministry of Finance as part of the reforms initiative,” Mwansambo wrote in the statement.

The OPA framework will set out clear steps so that the Civil Service has the capability and capacity to perform at the highest level possible to ensure that civil servants are fully accountable.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Mutharika, a few weeks in office set up a Public Service Reform Commission, to turn the Public Service into a gear box for steering development and wealth creation in Malawi.

The Commission is chaired by State Vice President, Saulos Chilima, to sharpen the cutting edge of public service delivery and management of public affairs.

This is aimed at facilitaing an economic revolution where the private sector has access to the tools and amenities for regaining its position as an engine of economic growth while every member of the citizenry is fired up to participate in the task of nation building out of the realization that Malawi can only be developed by us.

The other members of the commission are: retired long-time civil servant Bright Mangulama decorated scholar and retired government minister Professor Peter Mwanza, doyen of law and diplomat Khrishna Savjani, lawyer and activist Seodi White and Management expert Evelyn Mwapasa.

In a statement recently, Minister of Information, KondwaniNankhumwa, assured the nation and the international cooperating partners that the reforms the Mutharika administration has embarked on will continue in earnest and are in good faith.

These reforms are being undertaken, he explained, on the back of acknowledging that our country needs to introduce efficiency and effectiveness in managing its affairs, including attending to the need of eliminating wastage and using resources prudently.

“Government is aware that the process of changing course of things is never easy, it brings about suspicion and anxieties, in many cases giving rise to perceptions and misconceptions that if not managed properly and effectively can be detrimental to progress. It is for this reason that Government is providing this assurance,” Nankhumwa, who is the government spokesperson, explained.

As an institution,the civil or public service plays an important role in ensuring that government policies are effected to result in tangible services for the population. In fact, without the body of professional civil servants, national government cannot operate effectively and efficiently.

No nation develops beyond the capacity of its public service, and there is broad consensus amongst Malawians that our public service is broken and dysfunctional. Largely, the performance of public servants and the services they provide to our nation are both below expectations.

From the glorious days at independence when the best and brightest graduates competed to join the civil service, recently our public service is now seen as an employer of the dull, the lazy and the venal.

The Malawi civil service has evolved from the colonial service with its historical British roots of an independent, non-political and meritocratic administrative machinery for governing the country.

Today the service is enmeshed in myriads of problems including weak governance structures, red-tapism, weak accountability, low professional standards, waste and corruption, poor productivity, and lack of controls, redundancy and over-bloated staff structure, ever since recent memory can recall.

Aware of this background and the status quo, coupled by the realisation of the need to have a result – oriented and a modern civil service, the Peter Mutharika administration has embarked on wide-ranging reforms across the public service.

These reforms seek to attend to the need of retrieving our old public service – efficient, effective, well-paid and largely meritocratic, attracting bright people imbibed with a spirit of promoting public good.

The service must be turned around and transformed into one that no longer suffers from obsolescence, lethargy and a lack of enthusiasm in carrying out government policies.

One of the tasks will be to eliminate lack of democratic practices in the administration of civil service in order to resolve the persisting deterioration in the quality of governance, bureaucratic bottlenecks and problems of ineffectiveness, accountability and productivity currently plaguing service delivery.

It is believed that an introduction of a principle of democratic centralism will help to build institutional capability that will improve institutional structures and processes, enhance the ability of public institutions to perform specific activities so as to achieve their goals in a sustainable way, and provide strong institutions that are devoid of corruption, and adhere to rule of law, peoples’ aspirations, and societal expectations.

Arguably, the Malawi public service is both large and unwieldy. While remuneration is low relative to the cost of living, the overall burden of payroll as a percentage of the budget is huge.

Accountability is weak and professional standards low. It has been learnt that appointments, promotions, postings and discipline are bought and sold the same way shares are traded on the stock market.

To begin to nip indiscipline, government recently directed that Chief Executive Officers of Public institutions, Principal Secretaries and other senior public officers need to spend more time attending to their core functions.

As a result of this, Chief Executive officers, Principal Secretaries and public officers are not being allowed like before to attend public or presidential functions except where the functions or events pertain to their organisations.

“Government wishes to stress that Chief Executive Officers, Principal Secretaries and senior public officials will be recognised through their performance and NOT by the number of public events which they will attend,” emphasized the directive issued in July 2014.

Henceforth, women civil servants are also only allowed to perform at public functions which directly relate to their profession or organization or at an event to commemorate an anniversary or celebration of national or international significance.

In such cases, Controlling Officers are required to exercise strict discretion on the number of female civil servants to participate in such events.

The public service is also sprawled with considerable overlap of functions between agencies, and between tiers and arms of government. Exactly as a result of things like these the President Mutharika recently directed that the Office of the President and Cabinet be restructured by relocating some of its current functions to their relevant sectoral ministries.

This directive, hailed by opinion leaders as long overdue, saw the Department of HIV/AIDS and Nutrition and the Safe Motherhood Initiative getting relocated to the Ministry of Health; and the Presidential Initiative on Poverty and Hunger Reduction going to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

The National Registration Bureau, which is responsible for the National I.D. Project, also got relocated to the Ministry of Home Affairs, while the Government Contracting Unit was relocated to the Office of the Director of Public Procurement.

This meant that the Office of the President and Cabinet reverted to its core business of managing the public service and cabinet affairs.

In the public sector, as things appear, human resource management is generally considered as being synonymous with the creation of posts, placement of staff, and disciplinary action, and is, as such, often used as a lever of power.

Human resource management usually does not appear to be a priority and the capacity to plan in this area often does not exist within ministries.

The environment is additionally not conducive to fostering improvements in performance. The system does not reward high performers, in general. Rules and regulations governing administrative and financial prerogatives are overtly cumbersome and tend to centralize decision-making.

The space that exists for institutionalized manipulation is another challenge. Over the last several decades, numerous changes have been made in the structure of civil service in the guise of ‘reforms’. Some have “weakened the constitutionally guaranteed protection of employment that had previously shielded the bureaucracy against political interference”.

Other ‘reforms’ were aimed at ideologically reorienting the bureaucracy, eroding neutrality at all levels of the administration. By-and-large, administrative restructuring was used as a tool by many rulers for personal gains and political patronage in order to consolidate their bases.

Over the years, therefore, a culture emerged where civil servants were patronized and promoted, not on merit but on perceived loyalty to their respective unnamed political affiliations.

Civil servants have responded to this in many ways.

Whilst a majority resented this trend and still tried to operate honestly in a politicized environment, others felt unprotected due to the fear of undue accountability and chose to defer decisions whilst still others — and a growing number — tended to please their superiors rather than being responsive to citizens’ needs.

In doing the latter, they became party to politically expedient decisions that had limited grounding in evidence. These institutional behaviours promoted a culture where a range of ethical, intellectual, procedural, and financial forms of malpractices became pervasive in the system.

As a result of all these factors, Malawi’s system of civil service — which has yet to conform to contemporary realities after 50 years of the country’s existence — fell prey to exploitation, both from within its ranks as well as from outside as a result of collusive behaviour of non-bona fide entities within the political system and the private sector.

And hence  malpractices and inefficiencies became institutionalized. Poor management and lack of accountability exacerbated malpractices, whereas on the other hand, they becamea disincentive for administrators to strengthen management and mainstream mechanisms that compel accountability. Both these factors complemented each other in a vicious cycle.

Civil service reform, therefore, cannot be achieved through isolated technocratic solutions; the latter can only be useful if the broader political determinants are conducive.

Reform of civil service, implicit within which is a set of measures to restructure recruitment, retention, training, career progression, capacity building, remuneration, and accountability frameworks, therefore, cannot be taken in isolation and needs to be framed in the context of this entire structure, which determines how a government functions.

The feasibility of these changes additionally has to be locally determined, as there isn’t a cookie-cutter multilateral framework that can make reforms work in any setting.

Pending long-term solutions, the single most important measure is to let merit and performance take over. There are many champions within Malawi’s bureaucracy whose potential can be harnessed through this approach.

The reforms that are being sought therefore will endear to settle questions concerning the extent to which the civil service is responsive, reliable, and responsible, as part of the executive branch of government in a democratic regime.

Ideally, a responsive civil service caters more to the needs of the citizens than to its own tendencies to reproduce and grow. A responsive civil service caters more to the needs of the citizens than to its own tendencies to reproduce and grow.

A reliable civil service delivers services that measure up to the standards of international economic competition and diplomacy and to the expectations of the democratic government in power as to the thorough implementation of its policies.

A responsible civil service is held accountable by the majority of the electorate through the exercise of the right to vote and other forms of political participation.

Furthermore, a responsible civil service refrains from discriminating against the parliamentary minority and against social groups who traditionally possess fewer resources, such as social status (racial or ethnic minorities) or political pull (women or the poor), than others.

This is the kind of public service that the Mutharika administration seeks to achieve.

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special advisor
special advisor
7 years ago

Bravo, Peter. Saulos, you make the nation proud. BUT, this article is unnecessarily too long, verbose.

7 years ago

The same people always: Prof Peter Mwanza (is it because of name-sake?) Mangaluma fellow mlhomwe, Seodi former girl-friend, Mwapasa, Savjan. Are these the only people that have ideas out of the 14million people in Malawi.

Indeed Peter Mutharika has no tangible ideas. He is as empty as his mouth, which he licks every 5 seconds.

7 years ago

Mwayambapo kunyoza basi. Big up APM. Another angle that Governenment needs to address to improve efficiency is the cost of funerals in public service. I remember having attended a funeral of a friends wife in Mangochi just after crossing the Kamuzu Bridge. The deceased have several brothers and sisters working in different Government Ministries and Departments. Each one brought a government vehicle from their duty stations some from Blantyre , others from Lilongwe, Mzuzu etc. There were also friends of the husband and the deceased working in public institutions who drove to Mangochi to attend the funeral . In total… Read more »

The Truthful One from the West
The Truthful One from the West
7 years ago

It is clear and obvious that the one who has written this analysis has never worked in the public service. He has a superficial understanding of the public service and what caused its problems. I make the following points: a) The vast majority of the Members of the Commission have never worked in the public service except Mangulama and a lesser extent Prof Mwanza who was dismissed as principal of Chancellor College in 1975. This is the same as allowing a person who is not a medical doctor to diagonise diseases and prescribe medicine. Peter Mutharika should have included more… Read more »

7 years ago

Just list the points that will be different from the current stuation. How many lomwes will be recruited to replace other non ruling tribes that you are planned to fire in your reform. We expect to here about qualifications that will be requred fr a civil servant to hold aspecific position. Nkhalamba zangopanilira mipando zimangogona in offices while youth are rotten outside with their remarkable papers. I would also love if you put maxmum qualification for MP bcoz zianthunzi zimangogona. Fotseke

7 years ago

Is this news or an opinion piece? It’s confusing.

7 years ago

This is a good initiative koma there are many educated people that are waiting to be redeployed angokhala and akumvesa something.take out politics

7 years ago

This launch is necessary and significant just in case others in the civil service did not get the memo and continue with the UDF practices. Big up APM

7 years ago

May God Bless our President and all that are working tirelessly to make our country a better place to live in.

7 years ago

Is he going to lay a foundation stone at Capital Hill. Why is it that Malawi does things the opposite of other developing nations and those developed? Launch?

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