Implementing reforms, like change, requires taking radical and bold decisions. This is the case because by their nature, humans are resistant to any attempts to change the way they have been doing things.
During her time as president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who served as her country’s 14th head of State between 2001 and 2010 and as 12th vice-president from 1998 to 2001, said about reforms: “We have to be bold in our national ambitions. First, we must win the fight against poverty within the next decade.
“Second, we must improve moral standards in government and society to provide a strong foundation for good governance. Third, we must change the character of our politics to promote fertile ground for reforms.”
The last two points of her statement are my best pick: improving moral standards in government and society to provide a strong foundation for good governance and changing “the character of our politics” to promote fertile ground for reforms.
Doing business unusual is the catch-phrase for Vice-President Saulos Chilima in his capacity as chairperson of the Public Service Reforms Commission implementing ongoing reforms.
Giving a progress report on the reforms, Chilima, as ‘political champion’ of the initiative, once said: “As a government, we are obliged to provide the best to the public, and let me say that the public owes us nothing, but we owe the public a lot, hence the need to do things in a different way that promotes the lives of the citizens.”
The reforms seek to improve service delivery in the public sector and there have been several steps undertaken, including consultation and structural changes.
The change in the structure of principal secretaries (PSs) is one product of the Chilima-championed reforms. It is one change I am yet to be convinced is reformatory as it merely changes the semantics i.e. from PS II or PS III to chief director (CD).
To the taxpayer and the Malawi economy on life-support, the so-called change does not give any relief as the CDs are still enjoying monthly benefits of a PS such as 500 litres of fuel and a salary of over K600 000.
It has been argued that the change was meant to bring sanity in the public sector by reducing the number of PSs from 96 to around 40 and now around 20 or so after rebranding some of them as CDs. However, in terms of functions and reporting structures, nothing has changed on the ground. In fact, from what I gather, there is more confusion: PS or CD?
To the VP and the reforms team, the diagnosis has been done in the public service and what remains is the prescription, a good one to heal the problem. This is where the issue of boldness raised by Arroyo above comes into play.
If the system was bold, I would have expected the 40-plus PSs to have been asked to re-apply for the 20 or so available positions and be interviewed by independent and reputable agencies such as the Malawi Institute of Management (MIM) and KPMG. In fact, the same process can be applied for CDs, open them up to many educated and talented Malawians from within and outside the public service. That is what I call change, doing business unusual, not mere changes in titles.
Issues of seniority and tenure should not be driving factors. Instead, merit and pay-based performance system should influence the recruitment.
If we are to reform we should avoid what German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein (1879 to 1955), is widely accredited to have said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
It is time to do business unusual.