Amateurs, professionals in Malawi economy


The Daily Times of December 28, 2016 published an article headed “Amateurs running Malawi as a 5-year project”. It was attributed to John Kapito the Executive Director of the Consumers Association of Malawi.

What Kapito said has the tenor of ancient prophecy and will be dismissed or ignored at great risk. He did not say anything totally original. Other people including myself have in the past said something similar though not with consumers in mind but all sectors of the populace.

Malawi is not short of men and women of ideas. The problem is that thinkers or idea people often do not hold influential positions in society. Whatever they say or suggest tends to be ignored by people in high places.


What I have said again and again is that the main weakness in Malawi at present is not the dearth of engineers and scientists but technocrats, competent administrators and managers that the public and private sector of the economy needs so much. In short, we must organise ourselves for dynamism and eventual success.

The Constitution of Malawi is a hybrid of the British parliamentary system and American presidential systems. Britain’s parliamentary system requires the ministers should be amateurs from the ruling party. From time to time, a non-politician may be appointed to the cabinet for his or her skills. But this is rare.

In the American system, the president chooses as minister or secretary a technocrat. A person who had successfully run a business might be appointed a Minister of Commerce or a former banker might be a secretary of finance. These appointed are not totally dependent on civil servants for what they do. They bring to the job their own experience and expertise.


What Malawi needs is a corps of technocrats with permanent status is their posts, not subject to removal because there has been a change of governments. I have several times suggested the reviving of the Ministry of Economic Affairs which our first president established in 1966. It was the ministry with overall responsibility of economic affairs. He entrusted it to the youngest minister in the cabinet Aleke Banda. Older ministers resented his status as they thought Kamuzu Banda was grooming him as successor to the presidency.

The ministry which I am suggesting should be headed by the vice-president and staffed with economists, engineers, scientists and also recruit from the business sector. These people should first be sent to the Far East: Taiwan Singapore and South Korea and find out what technocrats do there.

From my study of recent economic histories of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, their technocrats are highly professional; they work according to the system called by the American guru Peter F. Drucker as Management by Objective (MBO). Under the aegis of the president, they plan programmes, implement them and review them at regular times. Technocrat who fails to achieve a certain percentage of the programme may be removed.

These people read professional journals or books dealing with their jobs. The prime minister of Malaysia travelled incognito in Japan to see how technocrats perform there. He came across books and magazines about Japan’s economic achievement. He directed his ministers and technocrats to read them and exchange notes.

This is the age of knowledge. People who after taking their degrees do not further read are worth very little in their top positions. Those whose jobs have to do with economic affairs should regularly read magazines like The Economist, America’s Time Magazine and other magazines which would keep their minds alert. We live in the age of competition not just between our firms and foreign firms but our country and other countries. We must keep ourselves abreast of what is happening and is being done in other countries.

For someone to engage in self-education, she must be engaged in permanent or semi-permanent fields. What is the point of deepening your knowledge of economics or finance if at any time you may be transferred to a ministry that is concerned with sports or gender matters?

In Malawi, we need a correct mix of amateurs and specialists. We must not allow amateurs to be dominant in things they do not understand. It must be taken as axiomatic that Malawi’s state is interventionist. It is true that the private sector is the engine of economic growth but it is the state that must give overall guidance through inductive plan and bear ultimate responsibility for the growth of the economy.

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