Allan Ntata
Z Allan Ntata

Question: Besides the fact that the government is failing to give primary school teachers the support they need, what is the bigger picture represented in the demonstrating and rioting of primary school pupils that we have witnessed recently?

The answer is very simple: total and complete failure of President Peter Mutharika’s so-called Public Service Reforms with which he tried to hoodwink us all into believing he knew what it meant to lead and transform a country.

You cannot get a more poignant statement of failure than a president engaging in an education debate at Oxford in the United Kingdom while back in his country universities are closed, teachers are unpaid and primary school students are rioting in the streets.

After three years of preaching about these so-called reforms, the only visible results are a complete breakdown of public services delivery and the same old looting and patronage problems.

Fellow Malawians, should it really have to take primary school pupils to remind us that a resemblance of a sober-minded usage of power that truly leads to true economic prosperity requires a solid administrative foundation.

An effective and efficient public service that can actually support our primary school education is crucial for the success of any government in this regard. Rioting primary school pupils are further evidence that the government’s public service reform program is pitiable and meaningless.

And the failure of government in this regard means that Vice President Saulosi Chilima was set up deliberately to fail with this idea.

I have no doubt that when asked why the public service reform program has failed to deliver DPP apologists will now point to the Vice President as the culprit behind the clanging cymbal noise of public reforms that were quite simply a matter of form without substance.

If I were the vice president, I would find a way of making Malawians know and remember that I was simply a stooge in this program and not allow the DPP to use it to degrade my political capital. Education then, as we can see, one of the most important areas that needs reform has obviously been omitted from agenda of this program.

For this reason alone, the program is, sad to say, empty and pointless, and not capable of achieving the desired results. In order for you to understand me, I have no choice but to be a bit academic here.

In the Malawian setting, the political foundation that gives birth to the public service is the Constitution.

This is the document that gives the country its political rights, as well as presenting the foundation upon which Malawian economic prosperity can be built. But the Constitution of Malawi is a flawed document that was forged in the heat of the anger and the vengefulness that was the multiparty movement, and fails to give the country the necessary platform upon which economic prosperity can be built.

For this reason, any talk of reform must first address this anomaly and include reviewing the constitution so that it becomes an instrument that promotes democracy and good governance, and not hinder it by promoting a quasi one-party state kind of government administration that piles all responsibility and power in the presidency and allows the party in power to traverse laws with impunity and very little accountability.

The fact that under the current dispensation, important appointments – and dismissals – that impact immensely on the country’s development all have to be sanctioned by the President- some directly and others indirectly serves to underline this point.

It means that all the 86 parastatal organisations in the country report to the presidency, making them more mindful of political expediency than they are of commercial interest and business efficacy.

If any public service reforms are to make any sense at all, such reforms must begin in the office of the presidency itself. Malawi’s political and administrative system needs to be reformed so that the presidency is able to tap fully into the advice of professionals that are capable of analysing policy and political issues dispassionately, rather than being advised mostly by political sharks that are simply thinking of advancing their own mostly financial agendas. Creating a public service that fosters economic growth means reducing political influence in the public service and especially ensuring that there is no political and administrative influence in industry and commerce.

It necessarily requires for the president’s powers of appointment to be curtailed, ensuring that appointments are based only on merit and not political patronage.

It necessitates curbing or controlling the overreaching influence of politics in every aspect of the country’s socio-economic and commercial framework. Furthermore, certain obvious silliness in the public service framework needs to be immediately reviewed.

It is ridiculous, for instance, that the constitution requires the appointment of the Director of the Anti-corruption Bureau to be approved by the Public Appointments Committee of parliament once it has been made by the president, and yet a serving director, having gone through such a rigorous appointment process can easily be dismissed at the president’s whim and fancy.

The examples, however, are endless, and include offices such as those of Inspector General of Police, Director Of Public Prosecutions and the Auditor General just to mention a few.

Additionally, important appointments such as board members of various government organs and bodies, chief executive officers of statutory corporations and principle secretaries of government ministries are all at the whim and fancy of the Presidency, which we know for sure means being at the fancy of anyone from the ruling political party heavyweights, to the President’s personal assistants and even body guards.

I know of a case where the CEO of a certain parastatal was fired on the basis of only the accusatory word of the president’s bodyguard and nothing else!

Furthermore, it should surely be useful to have in a public service reform program, a drive to set out qualifications and terms of reference for all senior public service positions- what qualifications are required for these positions, and what the terms of reference and the expected deliverables are.

It surprises me to note that for positions of minister or principal secretary, we have individuals that have doctorates and individuals that have only MSCE certificates; individuals that have worked in the public service for over thirty years, and individuals for whom the appointment as principal secretary or minister was their first public service appointment!

It is the prevailing constitutional and administrative order that has encouraged the appointments of this nature, appointments so crucial to the country’s economic development, yet made on the basis of political patronage or tribal or nepotistic considerations rather than entirely on merit.

The opening up for participation in the public service of new faces with vibrant and innovative ideas on how to redefine the country’s political and economic goals is also crucial.

True public service reform will open the door for perceptive Malawians that will ensure participation of individuals with fresh and youthful ideas in the public service by creating clear opportunities, encouraging initiative, and providing resources and encouragement.

Talk about this in a public service reform program. Show me a reform program that includes the presidency as an area desperately needing reform, and addresses all or at least some of the issues I have raised above, then perhaps I will concede that we have indeed a government that is thinking progressively about development and the welfare of Malawians for now and the hereafter.

Oh and by the way, fellow Malawians, if you don’t know it yet, the primary school pupils are showing us the way to making government respond. Don’t miss the bigger picture! Feedback: Zantata@Gmail.com

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