Let us accept change.” That was a phrase that dominated affairs at the Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) that day.
Of course, the words in that statement were not unfamiliar. But on this day, they were uttered with positive anticipation and conviction.
After 79 failed attempts to reform the country’s public service, on February 11, 2015, President Peter Mutharika launched the 80th attempt.
The development meant the Vice-President Saulos Chilima-led Public Service Reforms Commission was given core duties in the process of wiping out the factors that have derailed efficiency in the country’s public service.
In his speech during the launch, Mutharika said while the private sector is the engine of national development, the public service is the oil of the engine that has to be renewed periodically.
“The public service is the centre of government operations and plays a key role in the socioeconomic and social well-being of this country. We must, therefore, have a civil service that is professional, efficient, and effective and ready to meet current and future challenges of the country,” Mutharika told the gathering.
And the chairperson of reforms, Chilima, who is passionately driving the reforms agenda, repeatedly said “this time around reforming the public service is not a matter of multiple choice. It will be done and it must be done. And it must be done now.”
Together with members of his Commission, Chilima, took that ‘not-a-multiple choice’ mantra to the private sector, church leaders, parastatals, political parties and all the people that matter in a society that thinks ‘change.’
During the launch, Mutharika signed Organisational Performance Agreements (OPAs) with some ministries, including the ministries of Education, Health, Home Affairs and Internal Security, Finance, Information, Local Government, Transport and Natural Resources, Energy and Mining.
Some of the reforms that the ministries promised to implement within 2015 have been approved and are awaiting implementation while some are yet to materialise.
Health sector reforms
The problems that affected the country’s health sector in 2015 are well-known and documented. Drugs that did not exist in the hospitals where they are supposed to be, the suspension of meals for patients, failure to employ trained nurses and doctors are some of many problems that the sector transfers to 2016.
Parastatals that thrived on lies, inefficiencies
The country’s parastatals such as the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom), Blantyre Water Board (BWB), Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc), Malawi Broadcas t ing Corporation (MBC) and several others were given a chance to draft both short and long-term reform areas, which they did.
But the impact of their short-term reform areas could not be felt in the year as water boards failed to adequately provide water, Escom failed to provide enough electricity and MBC failed to shed off political influence.
Reforms that archived JCE
The education sector experienced more changes in the year than any other sector. Actually, 2015 was the year Mutharika approved the demise of Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) Examination.
According to the Ministry of Education, the decision to abolish JCE was based on its ‘lost value’ and eliminating expenditure on such a ‘valueless’ paper.
The year also saw the declaration that Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) would no longer be printing Primary School Leaving certificates. According to the reforms, the certificate will only be produced upon request.
There were some people who commended the government for such a decision but others condemned the move, arguing education is more than what the employers want and a certificate is something that one would want to have for the sake of history.
In the same education sector, the year saw the establishment of Higher Education Loans and Grants Board to be responsible for the provision of loans and grants to underprivileged tertiary education students.
The year 2015 also witnessed the decentralisation of accounting functions to the six education divisions.
The process meant education divisions started processing all education sector employee salaries at divisional and not national level as was the case in the past.
But the government seriously failed on the recruitment part of the reforms as the ministry failed to recruit more than 10,000 already-trained teachers in the year. This is despite numerous problems rocking the sector due to lack of adequate teachers.
Energy, environment and mining reforms
In the energy sector, apart from mere talk and signatures that characterised the year, there is almost nothing positive to write about.
The Public Service Reforms outline several changes that are supposed to happen in the sector.
The focus include, the separation of Escom into two; generation and distribution entities. It remains to be seen whether that will indeed be a solution to the persistent blackouts the country is currently experiencing.
But that was just a talk that created tension among Escom employees. Other than that, nothing tangible has happened so far. In the environmental sector, the government also failed to table the Environmental Management Bill.
The rehabilitation of the dilapidated forest reserves also failed the signed reforms as the year progressed without change in the areas that needed change.
Of course, the sending of Malawi Defence Force soldiers to Dzalanyama Forest Reserve and other environmental settings was much touted as a game changer despite the alleged physical abuses that the locals suffered in the hands of the soldiers.
Despite being part of the reforms, the Mines and Minerals (Amendment) Bill which is set to replace the archaic Mining Bill also failed to see the light of the day in the year ending.
Local government that failed decentralisation
The Ministry of Local Government committed to completely decentralise by the end of 2015 but at the rate that the country has moved, there is almost nothing like complete decentralisation on the ground. The councils are still at the mercy of the central government in terms of operational decisions. It remains to be seen on whether decentralisation is really possible in Malawi or it is just a myth.
The year saw the rolling out of the chaotic Malawi Traffic Information System (Maltis) at the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services. Most of the road projects that stalled failed to move in the year. Other reform areas that the Ministry of Transport and Public Works committed to do are still in the pipeline and what people can do is to just sit and wait for either further promises or implementation.
Financial system that failed to inspire donors’ confidence
In spite of several proclamation that the country’s financial system is undergoing reforms and donors and other stakeholders ought to trust it, the year 2015 saw the system inspiring no hope in the country’s traditional donors.
They insist the government of Malawi needs to do more if their funds are to be channeled through the national budget.
Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe and his boss Mutharika have tried to plead with the partners to no avail. Maybe 2016 will provide the needed solution to the system.
Security system that killed police officers
In the year 2015, some police officers died in the line of duty. The armed robbers, who at times connived with police officers, wrecked havoc in the year ending, also killing some civilians in the process.
This is after the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Affairs signed a performance agreement that promised tight security to the country.
The Ministry also promised to see the first National Identity Card produced before the end of 2015.
But up to now, only birth registration certificates have been produced for some babies.
However, as promised, the Immigration Department managed to decentralise passport production to Lilongwe and Mzuzu in the year.
Nocma importing fuel?
Mutharika also gave a go-ahead to National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) to start importing fuel in 2016 instead of Petroleum Importers of Malawi. But the idea brought some goose pimples as most of the government companies cannot be entrusted with such a huge task. Let us wait and see what happens when Nocma takes over.
All in all, the reforms were launched in the year but, as of today, they have failed to inspire socioeconomic growth
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