The contentious issue of teachers’ Covid-19 risk allowance is not getting away. It’s proving to be a regular nuisance for the Tonse Alliance administration and rallying call for teachers eager to get their voices heard.
Government attempts to intervene, using both conventional and off the book tactics, are yielding no fruits. The leadership of the Teachers’ Union Malawi (TUM), the only recognised union for the fraternity, appears resolute to press forward with the goal of getting the risk allowances, regardless of what government says or the rest of us think on the matter.
For the record, this columnist does not necessarily think the teachers deserve the risk allowance in the strictest interpretation of what a risk allowance is—more than other government employees who are currently not receiving the same.
But don’t just roast me yet, hold your fire TUM!
Teachers deserve extra income and better conditions of service.
And in pushing for the risk allowance, the teachers have just found a vessel to carry that aspiration. This is not much about risk allowance, this is about making sure that teachers get a decent income, which for years has alluded them.
And in the pandemic, they have seen government going on a spending spree that has reminded them that government is not as broke as it claims to be whenever teacher welfare issues are raised. They have seen that those in power have benefited personally from the Covid-19 cake and reckon extending the generosity to teachers wouldn’t be a bad idea. That’s the crux of the argument.
In that quest, I stand with our teachers. They deserve better. And they must fight to the bitter end.
And whether the teachers will continue, disingenuously so, demand Covid-19 risk allowances when in open discussions in government they have been forthright and said that all they want is extra income, is neither here or there. What we should be discussing is whether, indeed, teachers generally require a review of their conditions of service, and the answer is in affirmative.
But, like in all major problems in the country, what Treasury will tell you in response is that “we don’t have enough money to throw at each problem”. That is not always entirely true, as the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated.
Government has money but continues to squander it on needless things. Not much, unfortunately, has changed with the recent change of government. Some old habits continue. We still waste taxpayer’s money on trips and allowances. We still lose billions to poorly-drafted government contracts and corruption. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is gone, but the system of corruption, as Covid-19 has demonstrated, remains very much intact.
Tonse administration is here, but there is no real change in how corruption and abuse of funds in government is prosecuted. For example, the few Malawians are convinced that government is pursuing the K6.2 billion Covid-19 expenditure quagmire with the gusto required.
The audit is taking forever. Suspensions from work (not even dismissals) seems to be the only consequence suffered by those fingered for the mismanagement and that, too, has been restricted to technocrats such as District Commissioners (DCs) and not political leadership of the presidential task force or the various ministries that abused the funds.
So that’s the context we found ourselves as teachers demand risk allowance out of desperation while deep down their hearts, what they long for is decent housing their current salaries and conditions of benefits do not provide. They want electricity, good food and clothes for their children, which their meagre salaries and conditions of services cannot buy. That’s what the Tonse Alliance administration must confront immediately and in the long-term.
Government must engage the teachers’ representatives honestly. Divide-and-rule tactics are not the solution. Nor placing hope in delay tactics to wear down the teachers. It is only serving to sow discord among the teachers, learners and guardians, potentially the public at large. There are no easy solutions out there, but a sincere recognition of the real problem of poor perks will go a long way in finding a solution.
I have no problem if teachers were paid Covid-19 risk allowance, although I reckon you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that any such move could open a Pandora’s box, with other civil servants soon baying for the same. But I wouldn’t complain either if the wish was granted. After all, many civil servants have indirectly received Covid-19 funds as stories of how bulk of Covid-19 funds went towards allowances of one form or another.