A few years ago, there was a case in court whereby two government principal secretaries (one for Ministry of Agriculture and the other for Ministry of Finance) risked serving a jail term unless they issued a public apology in the newspapers for a number of days, as ordered by the court. This was in relation to a case that became widely referred to as ‘Tractor-gate’.
This came flashing back into my mind when I learnt with shock that, for years on end, government has given disregard to determinations by the Office of the Ombudsman; a development that surely has deprived the victims of justice and closure. Such careless tendencies could be one of the reasons our country has failed to prosper over the years.
Perhaps this is why for all the Ombudsman office holders we have had in this country, only a few brave ones have had their impact felt while many others have been frustrated. When will the authorities start putting their foot right and serving the country first before other interests? The system must ‘not be seen’ to be working but should actually be working for the good of everyone in the country and controlling officers must start pulling their weight by acting on the Ombudsman’s determinations.
It is the same with many others in the public service who have ever appeared before parliamentary committees to answer queries pertaining to their ministries, departments and agencies. You find that, once the interface is done, no concrete follow-up action or redress is made and all the officers get to say in order to avoid repercussions is ‘we will do better next time’ and, just like that, allowances are banked and matters shelved until next time when somebody wolf cry woof! Everything is dress rehearsal.
This is the sole reason why there is a lot of maladministration and dysfunction because not many want to do the right thing. Just take a look around and you will see the rot in parastatals where everyone turns a blind eye, unperturbed by the sad happenings. Take, for example, what has been happening at the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc). We hear there has been a tug of war between the General Manager Rhino Chiphiko (who has since been suspended in relation to the issue of him purchasing a new vehicle) and the board of the company. Apparently, the board also has some skeletons in the closet as they allegedly have been trying to pull Chiphiko’s arm so that he could allegedly bow to their wish of selling the parastatal’s 100,000 metric tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe but he refused to append his signature. Chiphiko was quoted as saying the move has not followed the company’s procedures. And now the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Sameer Suleman is imploring the country’s president to intervene in the issues at Admarc. Just exactly where does it all stop?
We should have already been reaping the fruits of the Public Sector Reform Programme by now but, up to this day, things are still slow in government and the public still has no clue as to what was in that Public Sector Reform report which the Vice-President Saulos Chilima, whose office leads the programme, submitted to President Lazarus Chakwera with recommendations. I am pretty sure that, by now, some of these problems which keep rocking our public service would have long disappeared if we had gone 100 percent with the implementation of the planned turnaround via the reforms.
I was equally excited with the proposition that people in the public service should be held personally accountable if it is proven that they did not do what they were tasked to do or if their office is found in a mess, but this is Malawi where one thing is said today and only the other that is said tomorrow gets to be adhered to. For instance, there is a lot that has been spelled out in the Access to Information law, including penalties for top officials or offices that would fail to provide information pro-actively. But have we seen anyone being taken to task in any of the many public institutions and ministries that we have over this? Not even one!
It is time to change Malawi and the task starts by holding controlling officers accountable.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).