By the time I was writing this, Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum) was locked up in a meeting with government officials trying to negotiate the end of a stay away by some teachers from primary, secondary schools and indeed Teacher Training Colleges, demanding that they be paid risk allowances due to the Covid-19 pandemic before they can resume classes.
I am fully in support of attempts to address teachers’ plight in this country which leaves a hell of lot to be desired when they do probably one of the most difficult jobs in the world, mostly from an environment that is not conducive.
Theirs is the most thankless job one can ever have yet at the same time very much necessary for the survival of the human race through acquisition of knowledge.
Simply put, teachers deserve this government’s utmost attention through action and not lip service to improve their plight.
That said, I must deal with the first basic question, which is: Are the teachers justified to stay away from class demanding Covid-19 risk allowances at a time they stayed over eight months at home and at the same time were getting paid all their dues?
Without mincing words, our teachers are dead wrong on this one. They do not deserve any allowances first of all because their risk is just as bad as one facing everyone in this country as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Look, should government capitulate and decide to pay the allowance that the teachers are demanding in the name of getting teachers back to class, I see a Pandora’s Box opening a whole can of worms as each and every citizen, whether employed by the State or not, will demand a risk allowance due to Covid-19.
And why not, after all, we are all at risk of this invisible danger lurking in the universe.
And the repercussions to the economy in general and our well- being in particular will be dire as the same Covid-19 we are using to claim allowances and line our pockets will simply come back with the avenger’s fury and decimate us all.
Have the teachers checked with their colleagues, both in the region and abroad, to see whether they are also demanding allowances for doing their daily job?
Their colleagues in US, Europe and elsewhere are demanding protection from contracting Covid-19 as well and, ultimately, the vaccine to stay clear of the disease once and for all.
I wish the leadership of Tum had borrowed a leaf from their colleagues because honestly their demand is completely out of tune with what citizens of this country are clamouring about, which is to end the culture of collecting undue allowances in the public service that has become an end in itself and not a means.
Otherwise, this is getting out of hand and it is children of the poor people that are suffering because their children are not going to school when they will sit the same examinations with those of the rich parents who are sending their kids to private schools.
On Monday, we saw learners in Lilongwe blocking the roads and demanding that their teachers get back to class, which is a sad turn of events.
There are even reports of learners chasing their teachers using pangas in order to force their masters to go back to classes.
Is this the generation that we should be raising as a country? Are we raising a generation of thugs, as we, their parents, are quarrelling over allowances?
The Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu the other day intimated that we might need about K96 billion to buy Covid-19 vaccines for every citizen in this country. Is that not what we should be fighting for? Should we not be forcing President Lazarus Chakwera and his Finance Minister to find this money so that we can all be free from Covid-19 and resume our normal lives?
In all fairness to teachers, probably those in top leadership positions in government have not shown enough examples to all of us regarding how we should all tighten our belts economically and only concentrate on things that matter to us such as procurement of Covid-19 vaccines.
But, in the end, the issue of teachers demanding allowances still falls into the realms of the allowance culture that has consumed us all and we are desperately trying to get rid of.
That is why we have a taskforce led by Vice President Saulos Chilima to deal with this issue as well as procurement and expensive contracts for public officials.
This is the way to go if we want to fix this country for the benefit of everyone including the future generations.