Written Mapwiya Muulupale
Monday 23 November 2020 will be remembered as the day that President Lazarus Chakwera experienced his presidential come-to-Jesus moment.
When he was speaking at Kamuzu Palace when chairing the signing ceremony of Public Service Reform Performance Contracts with government ministries, local councils, institutions and parastatals; Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera bemoaned the public service’s failure to repent, change and begin earning the “public service” tag which this far, it does not deserve.
Let me elaborate public service, as per the Cambridge Dictionary is:
• “a service provided by the government, such as hospitals, schools, or the police; or
• “the government and the work that its departments do”; or
• “something that is done or provided for the public because it is needed, not to make a profit”; or
• “the work that elected officials and government employees do for the benefit of the public.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary, on the other hand, says public service is: “the business of supplying a commodity or service to any or all members of a community”, or “a service rendered in the public interest”.
Let us be generous and throw the net deeper in the hope of surfacing a definition that resonates with our so-called “public service”.
The Law.com Dictionary postulates that public service is “a service that is free and/or performed for the benefit of the members of the general public OR a service provided for free to the community or citizens by the government or by private corporations OR employment within a government.”
Now, think. From your various experiences at the road traffic department, tax office, police, hospital, public schools, government ministries and departments; do we really have a public service?
In fact, what we have been erroneously calling the “Public Service” neither offers services for free nor performs anything for the benefit of the general public.
Our ‘public service’ employees offer exclusive services upon payment of a bribe, and as a principle, they do not lift a finger without inducements in the form of per diems or “allowances”.
Sadly, this is not only contrary to the spirit of the definitions listed above, but it is so pervasive that it is the norm which you and I know has stayed like that for at least two decades.
Hence my surprise to hear Chakwera exclaiming:
• “Eureka! The entire State machinery is filled with individuals bent on continuing doing business as usual, regardless of what the Malawian people voted to see happening in public offices!”
That is not new Sir.
• “Eureka! There is a clear disconnect between the public whose taxes resource the public sector and the public servants whose talents run it.”
You did not know Sir?
• “Eureka! The laissez-faire attitude in the civil service is so deep rooted that champions of change are branded “munthu ovuta or munthu odzimva [rabble-rouser]”.
Welcome to Malawi Mr President!
The billion Kwacha question is: now that Chakwera has been born again and while before he could see but not perceive and he could hear but not understand, what does he intend to do – not say – but do?
You know what? Unless he acts now, even after squandering previous opportunities, the Public Service Reform Performance Contracts notwithstanding, his rule will be another wasted five years.
History will remember his term as a five-year-long talk show with nothing to show.
You want an example? Forget about the drip-drip emanating from the NOCMA stink and look at the mess that the Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe is happily presiding over. The best he could offer this week was that with the rains already upon us, the status of the Affordable Inputs Program (AIP) implementation is that 68 per cent of farm inputs is now in selling points and that 28 per cent of beneficiaries have accessed them.
And we are almost in December. You know what this means? It means in 2021 we should expect hunger, thanks to clueless Lowe.
In fact, the AIP chaos is so evident that even the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Kondwani Nankhumwa MP now has a platform from which to yap and an eager audience to harangue.
Allow me to invigorate your memory:
~ first of all, the DPP’s 2014-2020 reign is the worst ever in our history.
~ Secondly, the DPP’s 2009-2012 reign of terror was a horrible nightmare.
Given these two facts, one would have expected Chakwera to – at a minimum – make DPP irrelevant. This does not seem to be Chakwera’s game plan at all.
He wants to fail and fall harder than DPP.
• whereas DPP’s “FISP” farm subsidies were always inundated with problems, those issues only surfaced deep into the farming season. Chakwera has done better, even before roll-out, his AIP has been dogged left, right and centre with setbacks; and
• whereas Malawians sleeping at filling stations for days on end was hitherto a DPP registered trademark, Chakwera has brazenly infringed on DPP’s trademark rights, upgraded and innovated “sleepovers” from filling stations to farm inputs selling points and poof, goes the promise of Kudya Katatu patsiku (eating three meals a day).
You see, if there was ever a government favored with so much goodwill that its cup was literally running over, it is this government. If there was ever a Malawi leader gifted a deluge of benefits of doubt, it is Chakwera.
Moreover, despite Chakwera’s belated realization that the Public Service is uninterested in serving the general public but is however very determined to condemn Malawians to a past they are sick and tired of, there has been no shortage of advice to Chakwera.
On this very column, we have flashed warning lights that most of Chakwera’s appointees are, to put it mildly, not up to the task.
Come to think of it, it is outright unfair to heap the entire blame on the dysfunctional public dis-service when some of Chakwera’s appointees are doing a fine job of making bad situations worse.
To conclude, I will paraphrase Professor Nyovani Madise: take heed Mr President, get rid of the foam at the top of the glass or squander your precious come-to-Jesus experience, at your own peril.
Save your breath Mr President. Act.