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Public sector mess worrisome

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Saulosi Chilima

By Nicholas Mwisama:

A growing body of evidence suggests that correction fluid Tippex was not only a powerful operational tool during the 2019 presidential, parliamentary and Local Government elections but also a piercing sword in running the entire public service until now.

Malawians were lucky to see Malawi Electoral Commission tally sheets being decorated with Tippex in what can be described as a smoking-gun-scenario.

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Interestingly, Tippex is putting on a different face in parastatals, where it is secured in executive filing cabinets.

The contents of the statutory corporation audit report covering the year ending June 30 2018 are both disturbing and knee-jerking. The report covered Blantyre Water Board, Lilongwe Water Board, Southern Region Water Board, Northern Region Water Board, National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma), Electricity Generation Company (Egenco), Malawi Housing Corporation and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).

It has been established, among other issues, that these parastatals failed to comply with the Taxation Act, VAT Act, and Pensions Act thereby failing to remit over K2 billion of Pay As You Earn tax, over K1 Billion withholding tax and over K2 billion pensions deductions.

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This is leading to several legitimate questions. For example, how do we demand tax compliance in the private sector when government companies are at the forefront of defaulting? Where is Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) officials, who are always out and about identifying tax defaulters? How do we proceed to hope for an effective governance system and a performing public sector, according to the Malawi (Mw) 2063 agenda, when the deficit margin in the national budget does not seem to bother MRA?

Further, what exactly is going on in the rest of the parastatals? In his parliamentary address on June 22 2021 aired on Times Radio, Vice President Saulos Chilima declared that some parastatals are technically dead.

There is a hot debate in the public domain, which reveals that boards of directors for Nocma, Egenco and Power Market Limited are being chaired by the Secretary to President and Cabinet (SPC) Zanga Zanga Chikhosi.

In addition, the SPC is an ex-official for the Malawi Gaming Board and Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority. What this means is that the SPC reports to himself through these parastatals.

This is a deliberate governance flaw choking the spirit of an effective governance system and a performing public sector. Precisely, a different face of Tippex.

Inversely, others argue that it does not matter because that is how things have worked since the said parastatals were put in place way before the current SPC occupied the seat. Unfortunately, it matters most. In an effective governance system, transparency and accountability are paramount pillars.

Who will hold the SPC accountable? This is one immediate area the new government is challenged to deal with through its dosage which, among other prescriptions for the governance and accountability sector, prioritises the rule of law and, indeed, the Mw2063 agenda immediately dives into mindset change as one of the enablers.

At the very time when Malawians began to break from the parastatal Tippex, boom! Fraudulent activities which have been reported for years in embassies took a different turn. This time the fraud caught up with the selling of VAT-free alcohol by our diplomats in the Republic of South Africa (RSA). Subsequently, the diplomats were declared persona non grata and ordered to leave RSA within 72 hours.

Where did we get it wrong such that our public sector seems to make headlines, in most cases for the wrong reasons? How do we proceed to hope for inclusive wealth creation and a self-reliant nation when public institutions are driving a different agenda?

One year after Malawians opted for a new government hoping for a new way of dealing with things, there are more questions than answers.

Nonetheless, there are clear indicators that the new government desires to be different in every positive way. For the sake of space, such indicators will be discussed on another day. In conclusion, let me say that, in strategic planning and implementation, some of the key ingredients include identification of outputs, outcomes and impact of projects and programmes.

It is a good idea to analyse the new government in terms of outputs, lest we are not realistic with expectations. When we are moving into the third year of this administration, we shall all rise to the question of outcomes and impact to determine the level of Tippex.

*The Author is a Malawian who likes commenting on governance and public policy issues.

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