By Christopher Guta, PhD:
My attention was drawn to two media news items I read and listened to this week. First was the report in The Daily Times of Tuesday July 23 in which Faith Kadzanja wrote about action by the new Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Honourable Bintony Kutsaira, MP. Second was a radio programme called ‘On the Agenda’ aired on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Radio 1 that was discussing issues arising from the presidential elections held on May 21 2019.
The issue at the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining headquarters was that the minister, after observing that civil servants (surely not all) were persistently reporting late for work, decided to give the offending employees a very practical warning. He, on Monday, July 22 2019 locked the entrance door to the offices at around 8.00am. Late comers – now unable to enter the office – loitered outside. The minister came out at 9.00am and addressed the concerned civil servants advising them to report for work on time. He then warned them that, going forward, late-comers would not be entertained. While everything the minister did and said was sound with respect to Malawi’s development, what attracted my attention most – and this is the point I want to make in today’s episode – was the reaction of the Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) expressed by its General Secretary Madalitso Njolomole. The essence of the response was that the minister needed to know the reasons the workers reported late for work.
Now to the ‘On the Agenda’ episode aired by MBC on Tuesday July 23 2019 between 5 and 6 o’clock in the evening. It was a panel discussion and the discussants were taking a swipe at opposition party leaders, especially those of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM. They had a field-day. They clearly did not hold the party presidents in high esteem and were, at times, derogatory. The discussants also took a swipe at religious leaders accusing them of sitting idly by and not taking action to bring the MCP and UTM presidents in line regarding their action to take matters related to the presidential election to the Constitutional Court. One of them used the famous line: ‘Akungokhala phwii’. At the end of the programme, the anchor made a disclaimer to the effect that the views expressed by the discussants were not those of MBC but of the discussants themselves.
The whole world is admiring China for its phenomenal development. Among the many factors explaining China’s progress, two stand out as critical in my considerations. First is strong, interventionist government propelled by visionary and committed leaders who instigated continuous policy reforms. The second factor is institutional innovation – a consequence of the first factor, of course!
What Kutsaira did on Monday is a good example of visionary and committed leadership intent on transforming the institution called ‘civil service’. That Malawi is bleeding from poor public service delivery is a fact. I am reminded of what pensioners were subjected to couple of months ago when they spent hours on end to verify their existence in order to continue receiving their pensions. Citations can go on and on. My question is: If the CSTU is aware of this shortfall, what is it doing as an interested party regarding Malawi’s development to correct the situation? While Kutsaira’s action demonstrates what leaders in government can do as employer representatives to improve work ethics, thereby reform the public service, unions as employee representatives can make a contribution too. Equally, to the extent that the radio programme on MBC I listened to represents a form of journalistic unprofessionalism, my question to the Communications Workers Union of Malawi is similar: Should journalists of whatever persuasion fail in their responsibility to keep the heart of democracy beating? Unions are a great source of change in a democratic economic governance system. Unions representing workers’ interest in both the public and private sector need to recognise the importance of labour productivity in economic growth and development as much as they should represent the traditional interests of workers: fair wages, occupational safety, etc. In China, reforms led to fast economic growth and, as the economy grew, earnings improved through performance-related pay. Public servants receive performance-based bonuses in China. Conversely, discordant behaviour is punished. So, Kutsaira should indeed not tolerate discordant workers. I leave it to those capable to suggest how to bring in line discordant journalists, not only at the public broadcaster, but in all media houses, especially when what they put in the media has the potential of breaking our society apart.
If the unacceptable experience I had last week when I had, in the name of ‘demonstrations’, to pay a group of young Malawians money to use a public road is anything to go by: fueling disunity through institutional failure regarding journalistic standards can derail Malawi’s development.
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