By Cedrick Ngalande
It is a classic case study in management: The president sets up a COVID-19 taskforce to implement a strategy for protecting the country from the pandemic. The anti-COVID-19 organization misappropriates funds, nearly K7 billion. The president asks the officials to account for the money. They do not respond to him. Unsure what to do, the president addresses the nation and complains that the officials are not responding to his questions. He then gives them 48 hours to respond or else they would be fired. Forty-eight hours passes and the money has not been accounted for the yet. Nobody gets fired.
Instead, the president blinks, and issues a statement saying because a meeting was held to discuss the missing funds, then the ultimatum was met. Not even his usual handclappers bought the explanation.
The president should be decisive. The officials who have not yet accounted for the money should have been asked to step aside long ago, even before the president addressed the nation.
It is said that anybody can fly a plane after a few hours of training. But the essence of training and long experience comes in handy when the plane encounters problems. One thing COVID-19 has taught us all is that not everybody can or should be president. A clear and demonstrable evidence of tough decision-making should be a prerequisite.
Of course, it is unfair to put all the blame of the missing funds on the president. It is unlikely that most of the missing money was embezzled. The real issue here is that Malawi has a serious problem of allowances. The abuse of allowances dates back to the birth of the republic.
For a long time, civil servants have used allowances as a way of beefing up their salaries which are typically low. Useless trips and seminars are planned with the sole intention of getting allowances. In the process ordinary Malawians suffer. The total amount of money Malawi uses just to pay civil servants’ allowances is huge. A leaked report showed that, in one instance, 6 times as much money was used to pay allowances than was for the actual service. This is unacceptable!
There are steps we can take to rid the country of this scourge. First, the government must suspend all non-essential activities that require allowances. No travel to conferences must be entertained if the government would be required to provide allowances for those attendees. Instead, let the country invest more in information technology so that most of these conferences are attended virtually.
Second, for all essential activities, a new system is required. Government must identify independent/private food and accommodation providers throughout the country. These providers will be owners of restaurants, hotels, motels, and rest houses. So, when a civil servant goes to Nsanje or Salima to work, he will just sign to get free meals and accommodations from a registered provider, and the registered provider will bill the government directly. Civil servants do not have to touch the money. We can save a lot of money through this system.
Something remarkable is happening in the country. For the first time, citizens have realized that they can do more for the country than just asking the donors. We have seen patriots organizing themselves and championing fundraising-activities to procure medical equipment to fight COVID-19. I believe that the next logical step is for citizens to take it upon themselves to help plug all loopholes through which large sums of money get siphoned away from government covers.
Citizens, and not presidents, will be the ones to transform the country.
Send me an email email@example.com.