Mutharika and Chilima
President Peter Mutharika and Vice Saulos Chilima

It is health, Blues’ Orators, that is real wealth.Not gold and silver.

In agreement with Mahatma Gandhi who said this are, first, the much-touted but unfruitful Malawi Public Service Reform Commission chaired by none other than the beleaguered Vice- President Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima and, second, our President Peter Mutharika.

Emphasising the centrality of good health, the Chilima Commission shortlisted the Health Sector among the reform pioneers due to its “key role in economic transformation and in creating the foundations for sustainable development”.

A high-sounding and imposing statement which is, however, empty if the ‘reforms’ we have seen to date are anything to go by.

“The Ministry of Health: Quality Health is vital to support people engaged in economic transformation and also an essential for creating a foundation of sustainable development,” the Commission wrote in its final report.

Even Mapwiya Muulupale was fooled into thinking: At long last, we are heading somewhere.

The reality is that the Ministry of Health (MoH), today, is no better than it was before the whole reform hullaballoo started.

This is why revered Blues’ Orators, if you all rise and condemn me for counting my chickens before the eggs had hatched, I will stand guilty as charged.

Often times, Blues’ Orators, we blame our woes on parliamentarians. But with respect to say, the construction of the National Cancer Centre in Lilongwe, parliamentarians passed the requisite bill in August 2014.

But while cancer activists, the likes of the ‘robustly’ surviving Mrs Blandina Khondowe and pals, with very little resources and armed only with ‘robust’ patriotism are delivering well-coordinated sensitisation campaigns without any personal gain, merely moving the already funded National Cancer Project is something our paid experts at the ministry are yet to lift a finger on.

The wisdom that ‘excuses will always be there but opportunity will not’ should have perhaps prefaced the Chilima Commission Report because, as a nation, we excel in finding excuses which any idiot, robust or otherwise, can find anywhere, any time without trying; than exploiting opportunities which are as rare as hen’s teeth.

MoH Spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe in a recent interviews aid all “logistical issues” have been resolved and remaining is the financiers’ “No Objection Order” for construction works to begin.

Which logistics?

Why was the “No Objection” not sought in a manner befitting the emergency that the National Cancer Project is?

Are these MoH officials not aware that while they are busy concocting their unpatriotic repertoire of excuses, Malawians are needlessly dying of cancer?

Am I, therefore, wrong to call the MoH as the Ministry of Death?

The most irritating thing about all this is that MoH has only updated us after Members of Parliament (MPs) under the Parliamentary Committee on Health – arguably the only functioning committee besides the Public Accounts Committee – demanded a progress report.

Fifteen months after Parliament approved a Loan Authorisation Bill to borrow $13 million (about K5.4 billion at the time of borrowing) from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) Fund, not a single brick is on site, not to say a wheelbarrow!

In fact, adverts have just been flighted.

Apparently, MOH’s only excuse coming close to sensible is that the project delayed because the government was yet to source additional funding.

Someone unilaterally increased the budget from $15 million to $40 million via unauthorised changes to designs and specifications.

The questions are: who revised the design and specs after the fact, and assuming the changes were imperative, which nitwit overlooked them when the bill was being presented to Parliament?

And to add salt to injury, Chikumbe is still not 100 percent sure about the December 2016 date. And guess you what, he already has a scapegoat: development partners!

This apathetic attitude to life-or-death initiatives like the National Cancer Centre is, among other things, why we are where we are.

The delay is negatively impacting us socially and economically. We are sending connected people abroad at a high cost while for those without names, Lord have mercy!

The 2,000 cancer cases the centre is supposed to treat annually represent 2,000 if not more poor Malawians, whose lives are now at risk, a risk which keeps multiplying every day.

One thing is for sure, if the project had moved from Lilongwe to Blantyre as was wanted by Democratic Progressive Party, by now, construction would have taken off.

I know this statement will put some people on the defensive but shoot the messenger all you wish; this is the sad fact about Malawi.

Talking about shameless blatant selfishness, even as they are sitting on National Cancer Centre construction, Lilongwe District Health Office health workers boycotted a full-board donor-funded workshop for want of ‘robust’ subsistence allowances.

I cannot agree more with their Principal Secretary MacPhail Magwira, who penned them on September 27, 2016, saying such conduct was “unprofessional and irresponsible”.

Had he added that further procrastination of the National Cancer Centre under whatever pretext, is equally “unprofessional and murderously irresponsible”, I would have given him 10 out of 10.

On the other hand, I disagree when in the same letter, he implies that what we should worry about, vis-à-vis the boycott, is“the potential to drive away would-be donors”.

This sick penchant of moving our arses only when donors are looking is yet another reason why brilliant initiatives like the Malawi Public Service Reform, this National Cancer Centre, the Vision 2020 and many others before them, die on shelves.

The day we change this mentality, the moment people at MoH realise that they are paid to save Malawians’ lives and not donors’ livelihoods, is the day we will start moving.

Come to think of it, the hopelessness of the reform-resistant Ministry of Death is why good old ‘robustly healthy’ Peter Mutharika – the man imbued with nine lives of a cat, the septuagenarian with a 30-year-old’s anatomy, the millionaire whose livelihood costs us about K5 billion per year going by the 2016/17 budget of the State Residences, the culprit appointing ineffectual ‘Ministers of Death’ and their third-rate principal secretaries – maintains a medical insurance in the United States of America behind our backs.

Who can blame him?

Given half a chance, would you not dump MASM for a medical insurance in the big apple, to dodge our badly equipped hospitals for state-of-the-art clinics where after ‘nyamakazi’ (rheumatism) treatment, one is guaranteed “life” for a very long time; to the chagrin of haters?

Since, unlike the man we elected as president in 2014, we cannot afford medical insurance in the USA, to survive, we should demand that our leaders and health officials start doing – as a minimum – what they are paid to do.

The natural starting point is the Ministry of Death which should reform back into a ‘robust’ Ministry of Health deserving the name.

It is ‘robust’ health, Blues’ Orators, that is real wealth and not pieces of gold or silver, no matter how ‘robustly’ they glimmer.

: