The effective public sector manager


By public sector we mean the civil (government) services, local government and state owned semi-autonomous industries. In the eighteenth century Benjamin Franklin noted in his Poor Richard’s Almanack “In rivers and had governments lightest things swim at the top.”

If members of the public were asked whether the government in Malawi is good or bad would the majority say it is good? Very doubtful. For decades the rains have caused havoc in the Lower Shire and sometimes also at the Northern and of Lake Malawi.

No matter which party is in power it has never provided a lasting solution.


Problems of annual food shortages are endless despite official rhetoric; violent crimes have multiplied. You may hear today that the police have arrested or killed a notorious eader of a criminal gang, only to hear a few days later that another gang has robbed a vehicle taking money to or from the bank and yet another gang has shot dead one or two policemen. These are manifestation of lack of bureaucratic competence.

On top of this comes the shameful and depressing story of looting public funds by people holding top position in society.

The cashgate saga is evidence enough that lightest things or people are swimming at the top of the government and therefore we are having bad governments. In these sense I am referring to the major part of government which is the civil service.


A good civil service must have managers who are competent and honest.

We have learned that money laundering is a process in which an official steals public funds by arranging with an outsider who forms a fictitious company renders invisible services and receives a government cheque worth millions of kwacha, gives back to the drawer of the government cheque having pocketed a service commission.

This sinister financial transaction seems quite simple.

One wonders why those in charge of the ministerial budget could not catch the miscreants before they had done irreparable damage to the nation. Both administrative incompetence and moral depravity in the civil services have cost the people of Malawi the goodwill of people and countries that were supporting us generously with grants and concessionary.

When you have stumbled and fallen down the only thing is to try and stand up again and walk more carefully.

Weaknesses in our civil service have come to light, so far so good. These weaknesses are reflection of the type of people who were entrusted with responsibilities of various government departments.

The reforms which President Peter Mutharika has instituted should be regarded as the first step in the right direction not the first and last. There is much to be done to make government effective in discharging its duties especially through its managers.

We must begin by writing a clear government mission.

Privatising a state enterprise may make it solvent but we cannot privatise everything that the government does and expect to dwell in autopia.The government has responsibilities which the private sector would not and cannot accept. We must therefore spell out the objectives of government for which there would be no passing of the buck.

We must operate the civil services guided by the principle coined by the late Dr. Peter F Drucker called Management by Objectives (MBO).Political leaders and top civil servants (the managers) should sit down and decide what work is to be done, what projects shall be undertaken.

Financial resources and manpower should be identified. Every six months or a year thereafter the managers should submit a report on what they have achieved and what they have failed.

Fresh decisions should be made including promotions for those who have done well and dismissal for the failures.

Such arrangements would be part of what is called a developmental and entrepreneurial state. Officials entrusted with such tasks must be self-actualisers men and women who want to feel good and great having served their country. Whatever titled such officials are given they must first undergo relevant education and training.

Most states of the world are involved in the economic activities of their countries. Civil servants must be given the training that would make them understand the business world including international finance.

There was a time was when in Britain the path to top positions in the civil service was paved by the classics. It was believed that whoever had come out of Oxford with first grade degree in these subjects was a perfect catch for the civil service.

The Fulton Report in the 1960’s recommended the training of civil servants which gives the specific skills to enable Britain compete in international economic relation.

Appointments in the civil service should have a clear demarcation between political patronage and the civil service sphere.

Politicians should not interfere with appointments or promotions of civil servants where technical and administrative skills are imperative. The kind of wrangle which took place at Chitipa recently as to who should be district commissioner there was deplorable. It should be left to the chief secretary to arrange the posting of civil servants.

Doctors, lawyers, scientists may be protected to head ministries if the display managerial skills otherwise let them reach the top scales within their professional fields.

The civil service is the most important part of our society. If merit is not respected in making appointments unsatisfactory results will show everywhere.

Basic tenet in operating a civil service are effectiveness (doing what ought to be done) efficiency (achieving maximum productivity at minimum cost) and economy avoiding wastefulness and extravagance.

During the MCP/Kamuzu era Malawi was one of the poorest countries in the world but its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was higher than that of Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Mali among others.

All these countries now have higher GDP.This is food for thought especially for those who have overall responsibility for the economy including the public sector managers.

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