Motivating civil servants


The civil service is the most important segment of society. It contains people who do everything that a civilised people need. In the civil service you will find doctors, administrators, members of legal profession, security and defence personnel — name it.

When things are working well in the public sector or service they are likely to work well in the private sector. If the civil service is disgruntled, lacking in public spirit, a lot will be wrong in the country.

Are things working well in the civil service at the moment? When a leader of a trade union addresses the government, this should be done within 21 days otherwise we paralyse the country with a strike comprising doctors, civil servants, teachers. Does he show public spirit? When civil servants say; ‘since you pretend to pay us, we shall also pretend to work, is he or she an agent of public service?


You may ask, what is public service? An American authority on public administration Elmer Staats wrote: “Public service is a concept, an attitude, a sense of duty, yes even a sense of public morality”.

The civil service of the multi-party era is different in spirit and ethic from that of colonial days. In those days government and civil service were identified terms. These days some civil servants do not feel they are part of the government. I would say three quarters of what we call government refers to the work that civil servants do. Some civil servants, especially members of trade unions are themselves as mere employees while the employer is presumably the president and his cabinet.

This is very sad attitude. If Malawi is a failed state as some controversial people have said, one of the reasons is that we do not have a fully motivated and public-spirited civil service.


During colonial days, what used to call Nyasaland government ,consisted of the governor, chief secretary and heads of department. All these were civil servants. The cabinet responsible for the civil service was called Secretary of State for the colonies and was resident in London. Civil servants in Nyasaland as in other colonies were self-motivated and conscious of the fact that they were the pillars of the British Empire.

Public spirit must be generated or restored among civil servants in Malawi if we are going to have a truly developmental state. People we bring into the civil service, especially those holding key positions, must first and foremost feel a sense of mission to develop Malawi. Money should be a reward for upholding such a spirit.

It is a happy occasion when we come across someone who joins the civil service because he feels it confers prestige and gives him an opportunity to render a public service. This is the person who, upon coming across two advertisements in a newspaper — one for manager in a company offering a salary of K 100,000 another for administration in the government at a salary of K 90,000 — decides to apply for the civil service because he wants to be part of the team which will devise government policies and implement them. The man who wants to self-actualise through the civil service.

Research is required in Malawi on what should be done to motivate civil servants. The one-man NGO’s which have proliferated provide one remedy: give them more money. They never bother to reason that ours is a government on the verge of insolvency. How big must salaries be to motivate civil servants? Will big salaries per se motivate them to work harder and smarter?

Motivation theories coined in the private sector do not suggest that money alone is a motivator. This at least is what Frederick Herzeg Hygiene and motivation theory says. Less money is a demotivator, but more is not necessarily a motivator. Employees want to derive satisfaction from their jobs.

How can we make civil servants feel professional pride in the positions they hold. They must be treated with respect. They must not be turned into political football, being kicked towards one goal when political party X is in office and to be demoted or sent to an embassy when political Y has taken over. Civil servants from the practical point are more relevant to the needs of the common man than the politician.

A country may have no political wing of the government — prime minister and cabinet for six months — life will be almost normal so long as civil servants are reporting for duties; the police maintain law and order; doctors attend to patients and teachers take care of classes. But think of a situation where the political government is there but civil servants do not report for work. Life would not just come to a standstill — there would be chaos!

The civil service in Malawi needs improvement. The Cashgate scandal has revealed that ethics and morals are not high enough. When you learn that a senior servant with the title of controller of finance was given a budgetary allocation of billions of kwachas and used that amount not to run his or his her own ministry but to build a private house or invested the money in their private business you realise they joined the civil service just for money to be earned by hook or crook.

In the civil service we need personnel who put duty before money, not the other way round. Such people will understand if we say raising salaries should follow positive changes in the Growth Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.

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