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On reforms and corruption

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More than 20 years have passed since the multi-party system of democracy was restored. Young people born since then and currently taking professional courses often have telephoned or visited me to find out which system has performed better in terms of economic development; the one party system or multi-party system.

If you are interested only in economic growth and development, you would say 20 years of one party era were more dynamic. It was the period when secondary schools multiplied, the University of Malawi and its colleges were built, companies such as David Whitehead & Sons, Press Holdings, Malawi Development Corporation flourished and we could see changes which the Federal Government had withheld

The new capital, tarmacking of roads from Bangula to Karonga, the railway extensions— all these created jobs. But once the infrastructures were finished, workers were laid off and had to struggle again to find jobs.

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The multi-party era is to be admired for restoring the freedoms which we enjoyed under the British; freedom of association, freedom of speech, of religion. The lack of freedom from want was there during the colonial days, the one party era and the current one.

During the colonial days, whenever a commission or committee was set up to study a specific problem, its report was published in what was called a white paper. This paper was available to the public through bookshops and the Government printer. Interested members of the public would then comment on whether the suggested reforms were comprehensive or relevant.

We read in the press that the Pubic Reforms C o m m i s s i o n , which was headed by Vice-President Saulos Chilima, had submitted recommendations and that the recommendations had been approved by President Peter Mutharika. The press never gave details of the reforms and we were left wondering as to what extent they met the concerns of the public. The civil service is the most important sector of the economy. The suggested reforms are, therefore, not just a matter of internal interest within the public sector. They concern the private sector as well.

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There are two general concerns about the civil service which, presumably, have been addressed in the reform proposals; inefficiency in the civil service and dishonesty.

From time to time, we hear of ghost workers being paid in the largest ministries such as Education and Agriculture. This suggests, first of all, inefficiency. It is said by competent managers: do not expect what you do not inspect. How can non-existing employees be paid for a year or more without being detected. What methods do principal secretaries use to ensure all departments and sections of the ministry are operating according to the rules. Junior officers will often be tempted to steal if they are unsupervised.

For rather too often, we hear of millions of kwacha spent without authentic documents. As I write this piece, the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament is reported to have asked Judiciary staff to give convincing information of the accounts which have been queried by the staff of the Auditor General. Usually, the Auditor General submits reports on accounts relating to three or five years ago. Surely, this is not satisfactory; so, we want to know what it proposed to improve efficiency in accounting and auditing.

When it was reported that criminals were targeting people with albinism, Members of P a r l i a m e n t quickly amended the Penal Code to provide for stiffer sentences. The other obsessive crime, Cashgate, has received no such emergency reaction. Are there, in the reform documentation proposals for higher penalties on public servants who embezzle public funds. Members of the public would like to know this.

What is corruption! It is doing something that is both immoral and illegal. Corruption takes a variety of forms, each form with its own degree of gravity.

In employment, people are supposed to be hired and promoted on merit. If someone is hired without the necessary qualification just because he or she is a relative, this is known as nepotism which introduces inefficiency into the system.

Moreover, once some people realise that to get a job or receive promotion they must be related to the person in charge, they begin to say it is not what you know that counts but whom you know and who knows you. In a situation like this, staff, instead of struggling to obtain higher qualification, spend time currying favour with the people above them.

To what extent is merit being upheld in the civil service? Both under the British government and the one party regime in earlier days, the civil service had a high reputation for competence while theft was not on the gargantuan scale as it is now. Tax-payers would like to know what measures have been proposed to curb malpractices. It is not enough just to say the reforms are being implemented. Tell us how.

Public resources should not be used to support a political party in any way such as lending it government vehicles or donating funds in fund-raising evenings? This should be illegalised. It is a form of rent-seeking which means seeking favours.

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