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Pres Joyce Banda, burying your head ostrich style not an option while civil servants protest

Police- fired teargas to weaponless striking civil servants at Malawi's capital hill in LilongweMaravi Post special commentary 

While the agitation that culminated in the historically peaceful January 17, 2013 demonstrations was brushed off as driven by impatience and founded on impracticable expectations and demands, the current Malawi Government vs. Civil Servants standoff is a totally different cup of tea.

It was totally avoidable, is totally needless and at this point it's the one thing that Malawi doesn't need. The saddest thing about this development is that it points to one thing: no-one is in control in Malawi, never mind the political rhetoric and symbolism.

We can say without fear of contradiction that no-one visualized this standstill in April 2012. In fact, it was just six or seven months ago when millions were being wantonly spent celebrating a hundred days of the ascendancy into power of a supposedly listening government.

But today, one has to come from mars to fail to appreciate the legitimacy of the concerns of the civil servants whose unfortunate remuneration and working conditions are known world over and are usually referred to as leading to:

  • the poor delivery of public services
  • the incidence of petty bribes and corruption and 
  • moonlighting in all grades of the civil service

as our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters engage in desperate efforts to make ends meet.

Having said that why is it only today that the civil service is doing the unthinkable i.e. deserting patients from hospitals, leaving pupils unattended to in schools and generally denying the innocent populace a whole range of vital services?

We have no straight answer for this question, suffice to say that civil servants via the Civil Servant Trade Union (CSTU) have over the years, starting from the tenure of Bakili Muluzi, been promised the moon only to be either disappointed as their selfish leaders were often compromised one way or another leaving the most marginalised of the civil servants voiceless.

Well, today they have found a voice, and they have in Elijah Kamphinda and his team, leadership that cares for its members. And as the saying goes, the bucket may go down to the well every day but a day comes when the bottom drops out.

That one day has come today under the ‘caretaker’ presidency of Dr. Joyce Banda whose expertise in the field of economics, as vetted by the Koreans, is yet to dry on the degree she was recently awarded.

One is tempted to say that the civil servants are applying the age old concept of pavunda khola i.e. they are playing hard ball because the current presidency is perceived as relatively soft.

We beg to differ with this school of thought.

Why?

Because:

  • If there was ever a presidency that Malawians embraced as God-sent, it is the current one.
  • If there was ever a presidency that should appreciate the hardships and abuse suffered by the civil servants, it is the current one.
  • If there was ever a presidency that inherited unprecedented donor and local goodwill to make a real difference, it is the current one.

And it is against this background that we hold and submit that if the current president had her priorities right she could have averted the standoff.

How?

  • By not blowing state house budgets and by prioritizing expenditure by among others not taking larger than life entourages to New York. Those funds are just some of the funds that could have met the demands of the civil servants.
  • By not starting with increasing ministerial perks before addressing the plight of civil servants who are the real backbone of any functioning government. The civil servants are understandably difficult to placate because they are the ones who handle the ministers’ perks, while they are going without basics.
  • By not engaging in Gulliver’s’ travel all over Malawi to distribute maize wasting millions of Kwachas in the process. Those millions could have made a difference on the pay envelopes of many civil servants.
  • By not behaving as if the Peoples’ Party government has just discovered Alexander Graham Bell’s invention called the telephone and blowing K68 million in a very short time in the time when alternatives like Skype – which are free of charge – exist.

We could go on and on, listing missed opportunities but mindful of the adage that there is no use crying over spilt milk, we will move on with our humble proposal to resolve the crisis.

First and foremost, the Government lead negotiator, Dr. MacPhil Magwira, who allegedly stooped so low as to author a fake letter to the effect that the strike had been called off should be removed from the team forthwith.

With due respect to the gentleman, he has lost all credibility and in sensitive negotiations like this, credibility is everything.

Secondly the Minister of Information, Mr. Moses Kunkuyu, in his eagerness to portray a clean image of your government, should desist from further comments because careless statements will lead to further escalation of tempers.

And finally your Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda: this isn't the time to be gallivanting pretending all is well.

Madame President, your ostrich act – burying your head in the sand in the hope that the crisis will vaporise - is not working. And please don't insult our intelligence with you’re a “I inherited a mess” act. While you indeed inherited a mess, you also inherited the treasury which ably funds the state house expenditures, your bloated cabinet, your assorted advisors, your frequent travels, telephone bills and all that.

We urge you to personally invite and engage CSTU leadership on a round table. Madame, while you have everything to lose we can assure you, they have nothing to lose.

And by the way while you are at it Your Excellency, remind Inspector General Loti Dzonzi that on his job description there's nothing to the effect that he will superintend teargassing and rubber-bulleting civil servants exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate.

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Pres Joyce Banda, burying your head ostrich style not an option while civil servants protest
Pres Joyce Banda, burying your head ostrich style not an option while civil servants protest

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