My heartfelt congratulations to all Tonse Alliance members led by Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima for being elected President and Vice-President, respectively, of the Republic of Malawi. I also want to salute former president Peter Mutharika for conceding defeat with But his congratulatory message is taking long to come, if at all it will ever come.
Good that Chakwera and Chilima have wasted little time to get down to serious business. Managing a transition after a regime change has never been easy. No handover notes. Too many things to fix for the change it wants to effect. The fever-pitch rivalry between the contesting parties, poisoned by a dose of violence and mudslinging during campaign usually leaves winners and losers at daggers drawn long after elections are gone.
The situation is made worse if a majority of technocrats in the government are political appointees and not hired based on merit. It does not help matters if nepotism, corruption and impunity have been the order of the day. In such a situation, it is inevitable that the new administration is first to wipe the slate clean before getting started. But such a process, while necessary, has potential to throw away the baby with the bath water, even to waste good money for bad.
It is against this background that the Chakwera-Chilima administration has made several bold moves in its first week in office at the helm of the Government. Every day has come with new placements in senior positions in Government; a new Inspector General of Police, Chief Secretary to the Government and his deputy, Chief of Staff for State Residences. The administration has also dissolved boards of directors for 60 parastatals and announced a partial Cabinet. Many more changes—christened ‘draining the swamp’—by the Tonse Alliance are rightly expected to come. These changes are a necessary evil. The new team made promises to the people. It would be naïve for them to expect the very people who worked in cahoots with their political opponents to support them in the campaign to implement their change agenda. It is for this reason that public servants should be apolitical all the time.
There are basically two qualities political leaders look for in people they hire to work with. These are loyalty and trust. Merit, albeit very important, is a bonus. But this is what wreaks many regimes. Knowing that they do not deserve those positions, and are dispensable, loyalists become bootlickers and rent-seekers. In their compromised state, they are a fertile breeding ground for corruption. They abate corruption in their quest to save their jobs.
Since it is common knowledge that the APM administration gave jobs to many undeserving people, a diligent screening process in the public service is now a must-do exercise. Job placements must be based on merit to guarantee performance and productivity. Those without requisite qualifications should be sieved out. They are defrauders. Those with the right qualifications but came through the back door should apply for those positions alongside others who are equally qualified for the jobs.
The same should happen for Government contracts. Those awarded without following due diligence do not guarantee the best value for money. Government has said it will scrutinise all contracts awarded in the past two months. That is fine. But eventually the probe should stretch farther to several years back. The K235 billion looting of government funds between 2009 and 2014 as revealed by UK’s Risk Assurance Services—PwC, comes to my mind. For obvious reasons, the APM administration systematically swept this matter under the carpet. But the files are still there.
Going forward, there is need for a complete overhaul of the whole public sector machinery to make it more productive, corrupt free and accountable to the people. Fortunately, the country already had a dose of such reforms in the previous Government. This was before APM unceremoniously threw out of the window the man who spearheaded the Public Sector Reform Programme—Vice-President Saulos Chilima. That was a typical case of throwing away the baby with the bath water.
But there are also many people in the public service who got those jobs on merit and after following all procedures. Hence the need for a sober and apolitical approach on the screening exercise. Doing otherwise will make people think the new Government is on a witch-hunting spree.