Malawi is full of surprises. A week does not pass without some heart-rending or mind boggling event taking place. If it is not about banks announcing jaw dropping profits in a year when businesses were negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is about the poor Malawi School Certificate Examination (MSCE) results.
If it is not novel that the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) can lead the banking sector in posting mouth watering profits—K35 billion for the central bank—then nothing is. Standard Bank (Plc) followed with K23.7 billion, then National Bank of Malawi (K22.45 billion); FDH (K14.4 billion), NBS Bank (K7 billion) and MyBucks (K2.2 billion). Banks have a chapter and verse to tell us.
Talking about the poor 2020 MSCE results, only 41 percent of candidates passed, leaving a whopping 59 in the woods. It is a foregone conclusion that not all those who failed will have an opportunity to repeat Form 4. We are raising a generation of semi-illiterates. As we mull over the poor MSCE results, teachers have spent six weeks on strike in February and this month fighting for a share of the Covid-19 allowances. But it is not the poor MSCE results or the huge bank profits we want to talk about this week.
Neither is it about the troubled Malawi Airlines—once the pride of the country—which now faces liquidation after posting huge losses (K14 billion) and a debt of K13.7 billion over the years. In a year banks posted dizzying profits after tax, the airline was counting its losses. We wait with baited breath to see how President Lazarus Chakwera will save the airline.
It is also not about the reckless Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) which can spend K3.5 billion constructing houses on land it never owned. Yet a year after the scandal, all the executive managers who oversaw the scheme are still free citizens. As Sunduzwayo Madise would say: This only happens in Euthini.
Before long we hear that K720 million of the K6.2 billion Covid-19 Response Funds were squandered through procurement flaws, irregular allowances, dubious claims and poor planning. Again we keenly await the final outcome of the malfeasance. But again we are only mentioning this scandal in passing.
The firing this week of two Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) commissioners—Jean Mathanga and Linda Kunje—should not have been a big issue. Suffice to say there are different views and interpretations of the development which is giving it a larger-than-life image. The two were re-appointed as commissioners out of sheer arrogance. They appeared before the Public Appointments and Disciplinary Committee of Parliament which declared them incompetent. That should have been the end of the story. Their re-appointment was a blatant abuse of power. Their dismissal this week is the right step to correct an outright illegality. It is not rocket science. The ex-commissioners can fire on all cylinders in their fight against their dismissal, but for good or for worse, they are out of MEC.
The expiry this week of 16 440 AstraZeneca doses makes for bad reading but comes close to what we want to discuss in this entry. The expired doses are part of the 410 000 vaccines worth billions of Kwacha the Government of Malawi received from well wishers—the European Union and other donors. They were given to Malawi in good faith. In appreciation of the generosity, Malawi was supposed to ensure all the vaccines were used before their expiry date. With that Malawi would have been energized to go back to the donors and ask for more. It is a pity millions of eligible Malawians have been victims of conspiracy theories about the vaccine spread by social media. Pray the third wave of the pandemic which is already wreaking havoc in India and Kenya should not come to Malawi.
The issue we want to dwell on this week is about the recruitment audits that the Ombudsman has been conducting the past two months or so starting with the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera). The exercise is hugely commendable because it is aimed at rooting out unwarranted practices endemic in the public sector. It is hoped that the exercise will improve performance and curb corruption.
But if the public service is to see the back of such rot, and if the exercise is to reap real dividends for the country, it should not start and end at Mera. The public sector as a whole is swamped with cronyism and nepotism. The Office of the Ombudsman should therefore probe how chief executive officers (CEOs) and directors-general in all major public firms were recruited. We know where we are coming from. The public sector is a victim of political patronage. We also know for a fact that if a CEO was recruited through the backdoor, he or she is compromised and is likely to have also influenced recruitment of several other members of staff in the same way to cover himself or herself up and to appease his or her employers. The sooner we saw the back of such malfeasance and rot in the public sector the better for Malawi.