By Dr. Daniel Dube
The Tonse Alliance was elected on three mandates: tackle corruption, civil service reform and economic development. The fact that we have ministers who are being called out for being incompetent speaks of missed opportunities, misdirected political energy and inconsistency in governing the republic.
Most Malawians may recall that the first public outrage against the president was the choice of his cabinet. The perception then was that the cabinet was dominated by political patrons and members of the nation’s most powerful political families. Because of the involvement of the prominent political families, one newspaper sarcastically dubbed the president, ‘The Family Man.’ The president famously rebutted these accusations by saying that he would not be ‘beholden’ to anyone due to their influence. He went on to state publicly that there would be periodic ministerial performance reviews. I recall one such reviews where everyone passed with flying colors.
We are now two and half years into the Tonse Alliance Administration. The cabinet ministers have presumably been passing the performance reviews with flying colors until the Barkaat Fertilizer Affair. After this affair which appears to have come out through a whistle blower, the president stated that some of his ministers were incompetent, and he promised a cabinet reshuffle.
The presidency can best be described as one of wasted opportunities to write history or set up the country towards a middle-income economy. Inexplicably, the Tonse Alliance seemed to have ditched their manifesto shortly after elections and later opting to run the economy “The MCP way.” To date no one has given a technical definition of this “MCP way.”
It is a point of interest that we have spent the first two years de-facto blocking the investigation of Sattar, a matter that has taken a lot of national political energy. On civil service reform, The Tonse Alliance government has failed to publicize the civil service reform recommendations. It has also failed to implement the signature campaign promises of mega farms and in tandem with that the million jobs initiative. There is no focus. Without the manifesto being the benchmark against which the government should be judged, what other performance benchmarks have these ministers been assessed against? We are all happy to see Hon Lowe fired. However, is he the problem? On the surface may be, but I doubt it.
We have become used to seeing the Tonse government deflect complicated political issues through distractions. That ADMARC was failing was known for a long time. Its underperformance was legendary. Its dwindling efficiency and inability to perform its statutory roles was known. Suggestions of corruption were rife. As a pillar in our agricultural infrastructure, why did the reform of ADMARC and addressing these issues not take priority at the start of the presidency? These issues could have been addressed through the very robust campaign promise to explore the state of corruption, set up a truth commission and a special court.
On the Fertilizer subsidy program, you do not need to be an economist to assess the shortfalls in the logic governing its origins, management, expansion and sustainability. We shall have spent close to a billion dollars running the FISP program in the next four years. This expense could build a mega industrial factory capable of supplying fertilizer to the whole of the SADC region for generations. The issues arising from the Bakaart affair should not be simplified by lowering the alleged amounts of money swindled but we should open up a whole audit on the financials relating to the FISP program as a responsibility to uncover corruption and inefficiency.
The Bakkart affair speaks of civil service operational problems. The Tonse government should therefore not get away without explaining why we have no structured civil service reform report. The Tonse Alliance political machinery should not be allowed to get away with this either. Where are the legislations that would have allowed the difficult issues surrounding civil service reform to be addressed? Without reading the report, we know that quality of civil servants, the allowance culture, low salaries and many other issues needed to be addressed. If one was a minister in the Tonse government, it must be a very difficult to be expected to deliver in a policy vacuum (absent manifesto) and a recalcitrant civil service. Comments like, “Ya ma allowance yo nde asayese agwa nayo” being stated openly by some civil servants in the social media suggests that the dog is not wagging the tail rather the tail is wagging the dog.
The Herbesq report on the Malawi Civil service Reform of 1985 addressed, 1. Poor training , 2. Inadequate definition of responsibilities 3. ineffective evaluation of projects , 4. poor financial management as areas in need of reform. I add to this list, tribalistic appointments, nepotistic appointments, political patronage and state capture by Sattar and other syndicates. These are the root causes of the challeges that we are facing in our government.
We need a bold approach to civil service reform to allow the SPC and cabinet to lead government operations. This should be in tandem with serious parliamentary leadership through appropriate legislation. The best way to allow your team to succeed in the civil service and the ministerial cadre is through legally supported reforms and measurable benchmarks for the political leadership and decisive executive authority over those standing in the way of change.