So we shut down government from December the 16th up to January the 6th? Wow!

The statement from the Office of the President and Cabinet was cryptic – as usual!

Malawi officialdom seems to have lately fallen deep in love with the word ‘essential’. First time this word was used with prominence was last month by the Finance Minister when he pontificated that external and internal travel for civil servants had forthwith been put on ice, expect, of course, for ‘essential’ travel.

This time around, civil servants have been force-marched into a long three-week holiday, except – yet again – for ‘essential’ services. What – just what does that exactly mean?

Essentially, what does ‘essential’ mean?

So from December 16, 2013, up to January 6, 2014, government is shut, no service, no nothing, except for ‘essential’ services.

The usual suspects in the ‘essential services’ pecking order are, of course, the security folks and medics. But, as the civil servants were sent home, most of them had no money in their pockets. Should we still blame this on the Ifmis animal?

Maxwell Mkwezalamba, him of the thankless task of cleaning up our soiled financial outlook, promised to pay everyone by a certain date. This ordinarily means some folks in the Ministry of Finance suddenly became ‘essential’.

Come to think of it, we always know that sometime in December there is Christmas. Why then do we seem reactionary to this Christmas shutdown? Christmas is not as unexpected as Bingu’s death. Christmas is always there.

Why not make it permanent for crying out loud! This will be ideal for planning purposes for both the civil service and those who deal with it. It is not healthy to keep people guessing whether there will be a holiday or not.

By the way, Malawi is too poor to afford such needless government shut downs. The cost of the man-hours we lose during these three weeks is unquantifiable. I know we all need a break once in a while but for the greater national good we need all the man-hours we can muster.

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