When a sick person is taken to hospital, a doctor first diagnoses the cause of the illness. He or she does not right away prescribe the treatment.
The Malawi economy is sick. This is easy to see: the civil service is malfunctional and this is perhaps one reason the economy is sickly. Guess work does not lead to taking the right or best action.
During colonial days when things were seen not to be working well in a colony, the British government would set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the causes and make recommendations. Members of the commission were usually specialists, experts and persons of experience. Most of them would be outsiders and would therefore be more detached in making recommendations.
The public sector, both the civil service and parastatals, seem to be hardly working. In getting things done, two terms have become popular in the science of managements. These are efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency means doing things in the right way such as achieving maximum production at minimum cost. Effectiveness means doing things that ought to be done right. Efficiency alone does not solve a person’s or country’s problems if effort is being expended on unnecessary things.
There is evidence that in the public service there is a palpable inefficiencies. From time to time, we learn of a ministry offering a contract to a foreign organisation then later on cancelling the contract. The foreign body then sues the government demanding huge compensation.
The question to ask is why do officials entangle the government in situations where it has to be on the defensive.
From time to time, we read of ministries where millions of kwacha is paid to ghost workers. Why do such practices remain a long time without being detected? And when detected, why do they keep recurring? Is the public sector working efficiently?
Lack of integrity has become obvious. We used to hear about corruption in other countries and thought our country was normally cleaner. The truth out there is that there are people in the public services who are good at covering up the footprints of rogues.
In the private sector, there is broad agreement among executives and authorities on management about the characteristics of effective and efficient organisations. They share six characteristics;
- They have a clear well articulated mission; they know what they are out to achieve.
- A strategic use of stakeholders and resources. There are plans for the short-term and the long-term. A ship without compass might take you to an iceberg.
- Analysis of both threats and opportunities. Where are we? Where do we want to be?
- Clearly defining outcomes. They work not for the sake of working but to achieve results.
- An alignment of activities. Without proper coordination, the goals and objectives may prove difficult to achieve.
- An objective assessment performance.
To improve efficiency by asking the very people who have under-performed to suggest better methods if work is to take reforms seriously.
Who has the overall responsibility for the effectiveness and efficiency of the civil service? Presumably it is the chief secretary, head of the civil service. Can a chief secretary learn something from a president or chief executive officers of conglomerates? Whose budgets and staff are almost as big as those of the Malawi Government? What nature of autonomy do they grant to regional or branch managers? How do they make sure that the behemoth is operating to the satisfaction of stakeholders?
It is easy to tell if a private sector has been efficiently managed. You just look at the bottom line and see the amount of profit or loss. The public sector especially the civil service cannot be assessed in this manner. It is not there to make profits for shareholders who are members of the public but to render them a non- quantifiable service.
Still we can tell if the civil service is operating to the optimum. When patients are brought to the hospitals, the doctor is there on duty so are the nurses and the drugs. When a firebreak occurs in the city, trained personnel is on the spot and the situation is brought under control before it gets worse.
From the private sector, the public should borrow such as mission statement, planning, management by objectives. Political interference and bureaucracy should be minimised to get things done on time. n