“Courtesy costs nothing, but buys everything”—Hazard Ali Ibn Abu-Talia
So, finally, President Peter Mutharika has woken up and realised he has to fill up parastatal boards.But, just like his predecessors, he has packed the boards with names taken from the drop of the hat, no consideration of competence or relevance.
Of course there are a few exceptions. However, I wonder how – and why – a perennially loss-making parastatal requires a 15-member board. What is that crowd going to do other than milking an already thin cow?
I am happy, though, for a few friends who have made it to the boards. Of course, most of the appointees I personally know and talked to confessed they have no idea what they are going to do on these boards apart from, of course, signing for fat allowance cheques for attending two-hour meetings.
By the way, all of the appointees I talked to confessed they were never consulted; they just heard of their appointments from the media.
Good people, just how do you assign people jobs without the courtesy of checking whether they are available or happy or competent to serve in those capacities? What executive arrogance is this!
I know most Malawians will have no qualms about ‘eating’ freebies just for just sitting on some board. But what is wrong about a State House or an Office of the President and Cabinet call to check whether the Muckraker is available to sit on the National Herbarium Board? At least I would be able to tell His Excellency, “Thanks, Sir, but no, thanks, I am allergic to flowers; why don’t you try me on the Malawi Book Service Board so that I can read all the Malawi books from Kathyali Psipsiti to Mkwatibwi Okhumudwa?”
The President should not tantalise himself into thinking that by appointing people to some board he is doing them a favour. No, Sir, this is not a privilege; these are bona fide Malawians who have the right to serve their flag in whatever way they competently can.
Having said that, let us now interrogate the characters that have been placed on these boards. There are quite some interesting faces appointed to some boards: wannabe politicians who never realised their dreams to be in Parliament or councils;priests and pastors whose role on the boards I am yet to be convinced of;journalists whom I must say very little about; and, of course, civil society loudmouths who have to be silenced – or rewarded – in one way or the other.
It will be interesting, for example, to see how John Kapito carries himself forward. I spoke to him; he wondered how this “small post” as chair of some water board will shut him up when a “bigger post” at the Malawi Human Rights Commission failed to do the same.
Of course I remember the consumers’ self-appointed high priest annoyed Bingu while at the Commission so much that the Big Kahuna actually confessed when Kapito and his commissioners bade farewell to him, “I’m shaking your hand because I have to, otherwise I can’t greet you in the streets.”
I know there are some people who will say they see nothing wrong with appointing activists, chiefs, priests, journalists or politicians who cannot count beyond their fingers to all manner of boards. But why do we have these boards in the first place? Are they creations who serve no purpose so much so that any Jim andJane can sit there, even literally?
But I thought boards are meant to give broad policy directions to the technocrats doing day to day management? Imagine the CEO of Escom waltzing lyrical about the connection between the Liwonde Barrage siltation and power generation at Nkula. How will my good chief react apart from being bedazzled by the apparent madness of this engineer? He may even doze off in the middle of the presentation!
Let us come to my friends in the civil society who have made it to the boards. Like Kapito, those I have spoken to say they will not be shut up. But, c’mon! These fellas who claim to speak for all of us do so because of some detachment from the establishment. That gives them freedom to stand on a high moral ground and say whatever they say.
But when they become part of the establishment, what can we expect? Look at one Atupele Muluzi and his ‘Agenda for Change’? Before being lured by the Cabinet position, the UDF leader was a breath of fresh air. But where is the change agenda now if not done and dusted?
And Billy Banda comes here to say, by being appointed to some board, he will be representing people better. C’mon, if Airtel or TNM come up with some funny competitions to cheat people will my friend Billy, sitting pretty with fat allowances at the Gaming Board, raise a finger? Fat chance!
Again will John Kapito lead a demonstration against the decision by the Southern Region Water Board to ‘steal’ the Mpira-Balaka Rural Gravity-Fed Water Project from villagers in Ntcheu and Balaka? Fat chance again!
And look at how the appointing authority tend to misplace people. Look at Steven Duwa, for example. The dude has been in election issues more than Justice Maxon Mbendera and Willy Kalonga. He has been a thorn in the wrong place for the judge and Willy.
But look at where Peter has placed Steve. If he were to be appointed a commissioner at the Malawi Electoral Commission you would think Kalonga and his bosses would be on their toes. But what is he going to do at Escom? Proof-reading load-shedding schedules?
And some DPP apologist will come here with the hackneyed argument that, ‘But Atcheya did the same, so did the Big Kahuna and Ama’. But were we not promised that with Peter it would be ‘business unusual’?
If truth be told, boards have come to be sanctuaries to ‘warehouse’ political stooges or threats who, for one reason or the other, cannot make it to the Cabinet or diplomatic postings.