By Wezzie Gausi:
The Government Assurance and Public Sector Reforms Committee of Parliament has criticised the reforms taking place in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) which it says are not impressive at all.
Speaking when members of the committee engaged officials from the Public Sector Reform Management Department (PSRMD) in Lilongwe Tuesday, the committee’s chairperson Noel Lipipa said basing on what the department had presented before the lawmakers, Malawi is far from achieving the change the reforms were billed to bring.
Malawi’s Constitution gives PSRMD powers to coordinate the implementation and monitoring of all reforms including resource mobilisation and management of all transformation activities that cut across all MDAs.
Lipipa said there was a need to revisit the implementation of the reforms and that most things that the department says it has done are not what they can proudly call reforms.
“For instance, we were told about issues to do with payment of K10,000 hardship allowances to teachers. Could we say that is a reform that the nation was expecting?
“This country has serious problems that need to be addressed. Look at the police service, hospitals and schools. Things are not moving the way they were supposed to. Of course, the department has taken steps but, as a committee, we are expecting more from them,” Lipipa said.
Secretary to the Vice- President and for Public Sector Reforms, Luckie Sikwese, said his office had noted the lawmakers’ concerns regarding the reforms.
Sikwese pledged that PSRMD will engage an extra gear to ensure the reforms meet Malawians’ expectations.
“Although the committee is not impressed, as a department, we have made tremendous progress on the reforms in the country. For instance, we have managed to facilitate the delinking of the University of Malawi,” Sikwese said.
Information on the Public Service Reforms website indicates that other notable reforms achieved so far include rightsizing the public service, enforcement of meritorious appointments, creation of the Malawi School of Government and improving the environment of doing business.
However, various observers have over the years maintained that the reforms are not achieving their intended purpose, apparently because Malawi’s public service remains fraught with challenges which are frustrating the country’s development agenda.
In an interview Tuesday, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace National Coordinator, Boniface Chibwana, agreed with the lawmakers that the reforms are not bearing fruits.
“Yes, systems have somehow changed but the behaviour of the people managing those systems has not changed. If you go to the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services or the Immigration Department, you will find the same problems people have been complaining about,” Chibwana said.
He added that corruption levels remain high in the country when the reforms were supposed to address the problem.
According to Chibwana, empowering people at the local level is critical to the performance of the reforms.
“People must be able to get information that they require. They must be able to ask questions where a service is not being rightly provided. That is where the Access to Information Act becomes important. Right now, most public institutions are not willing to provide information,” he said.
On the other hand, Chibwana indicated that there has been political will at the highest level.
He called for a paradigm shift in efficiency and effectiveness of public officers so that they work according to professional and ethical standards commensurate with their positions.
“Otherwise, the reforms will remain just talk shows without anything coming out of them. It is clear that the momentum has died,” Chibwana said.
A preface to the Malawi National Public Sector Reforms Policy covering 2018-2022 states that the reforms ensuing from the document were expected to transform all public sector institutions to high performing bodies.
“Through this policy framework, government is fostering greater alignment of public sector institutions to the [Malawi Growth and Development Strategy III].
“Government is also fostering greater collaboration among public sector institutions and between public sector institutions and non-State actors,” the preface reads.
In 2022, as part of promoting accountability and responsiveness, Cabinet ministers signed public sector reform performance contracts with President Lazarus Chakwera.
The ministers signed the contracts with the President on behalf of their ministries and parastatal organisations that fall under them.
But months after the event, officers responsible for overseeing the reforms indicated that they were failing to make progress due to funding challenges, among others.
The reforms had been running for years and the 2020 recommitment came about following the change of government after the Tonse Alliance wrestled power from the Democratic Progressive Party.