MALAWI PUBLIC SERVICE REFORMS: A CASE OF FORM WITHOUT SUBSTANCE? (Caution: This is a long post and only for those really interested in a detailed analysis)

The only thing I can commend about the
much-publicized public reforms initiative
being taken by the current administration is
the idea itself. A resemblance of a sober-
minded usage of power that truly leads to
true economic prosperity requires a solid
political foundation. An effective and
efficient public service is crucial for the
success of any government in this regard.
However, what I have seen and heard so far
in the government’s public service reform
program is pitiable and meaningless.
I have followed keenly the rhetoric and the
sound bites coming from the office of the
President and the Vice President and I
cannot help but conclude that the noise is
much like a clanging cymbal, a matter of
form without substance. The reason for my
holding this opinion is simple. The most
important areas that need reform are
conspicuously missing from the agenda of
this program. For this reason alone, the
program is, sad to say, empty and pointless,
and not capable of achieving the desired
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
First and foremost, the Malawian
Constitution puts politics above industry.
This is a fundamental flaw that makes the
Malawian political governance framework
retrogressive and incapable of bringing
commercial success to the country.
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. In
other words, the CEO of ESCOM, for instance,
cares more about pleasing the country’s
political masters than he does about
ensuring that ESCOM is efficient and
profitable, because his tenure as CEO, being
at the mercy of the President, is dependent
on whether the politicians in power are
happy with him or not, and has nothing to
do with customer satisfaction or the success
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’s 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, and inevitably
economically sabotaging, 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.
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
Finally, painful as it maybe, a meaningful
public service reform program must have
within it a framework aimed at cutting the
umbilical cord connecting the country to
donors and making it aid dependent. It is
vitally important for Malawi to seek a way of
running this country that will not depend on
donor aid.
If Malawi is going to achieve true
sovereignty, a strategy for curtailing the
heavy dependence on donor support needs
to be devised. 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.


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