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Editorial CommentOpinion & Analysis

No fat cows in lean years

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Austerity measures, for all intents and purposes, are meant to serve a nation from imminent collapse, economy-wise.

All along, despite the government’s attempts to paint a rosy picture of the situation, we have been arguing that the benefits of the so-called economic miracles— notably single-digit inflation— are not trickling down to the ordinary Malawian.

If the economy was ticking and everything was going according to plan, surely, the Malawi Revenue Authority would not be under-collecting, in terms of taxes, time and again.

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But we seem to have been proven right, after all, following the government’s implicit admission that all is not rosy through its announcement of austerity measures. Among other things, the government has frozen promotions and recruitments for the majority of public service sectors.

In a circular announcing expenditure cut measures, Chief Secretary to the Government, Lloyd Muhara, indicates that, among other measures, there will be limited access to business-class travel for top civil servants. Additionally, government vehicles will only be used during weekends, after working hours and public holidays, with permission from controlling officers or chief directors among others.

While we welcome the government’s implicit admission that all is not well in the country—for it is manly to own up to mess— we find fault with the manner in which the government is implementing the austerity measures.

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We actually agree with the Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU), which has bemoaned the government’s position, arguing that, other than getting the best out of civil servants— human resources that power the government’s agenda— the decision will demotivate civil servants.

This is understandable because anyone who is well-versed in human resource issues will tell you that human beings work to the best of their ability when there is a motivating factor.

CSTU’s point aside, we find that the government is playing double standards on the issue, especially because it is those at the bottom of the ladder who will bear the brunt of the austerity measures. For instance, while top civil servants will face restrictions when it comes to using business-class travel, business-class travel has not been ruled out altogether. This means that top dogs will still use business class, albeit on conditions.

The other thing we have issues with is the freezing of promotions and recruitments for the majority of public service sectors. In our view, it is problematic to use one-cap-fits all strategies because, simply put, some sectors are very critical.

A good example is the health sector, which plays an important role in bringing ailing people back to good health. The role played by the education sector, another key area, can also not be overlooked, just like the sector of agriculture, among others, is important.

Already, we are talking of a health sector that is understaffed. As of other sectors, some workers have overstayed in one position, without being considered for promotion.

In the end, it is the ordinary Malawian— as the end user of services and products offered by the government— who suffers. All the while, President Peter Mutharika will be exposed to all the luxuries that tickle his fancy, as the helpless civil servant gets burdened by the rock called austerity measures.

This, to say the least, is uncalled for. If austerity measures are introduced, let them apply to each and every one. There are no fat cows in lean years.

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