The Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines naivety as, quite simply, having or showing a lack of experience or knowledge. You may choose to refer to that as an inability to judge situations correctly, with unpleasant outcomes.
Naivety is clearly not a trait you want to see exhibited by those entrusted with leadership and decision-making positions, particularly decisions that affect a whole population.
You can, therefore, imagine my shock recently when I read comments from Dr. Bright Molande, director of information in the Ministry of Information, to the effect that the Malawi Government have been ‘ambushed’ with a £295 000 (about K295 million) bill from Business Outlook, a United Kingdom public relations firm, for facilitating the publication of several articles on brand Malawi in Time magazine between November and December 2015. This is taxpayers’ money!
The articles, mind you, were aimed at selling Malawi’s potential for investment on the global stage- a great idea, no doubt. But hold on.
According to Molande, Business Outlook “…just came on their own with an offer that seemed innocent only (for the ministry) to realise that there were costs involved”. He further explained that in June 2015, Business Outlook came to (Malawi to) interview some senior government officials, and later offered to do a Malawi profile, which was not a planned expenditure, but the ministry allowed it to go ahead on the understanding that terms of payment would be agreed upon later on! How credulous.
For starters, Business Outlook is not an ordinary public relations firm, but one that is very reputable in working with countries to raise their economic profile on the international market. Its modus operandi is to interview presidents, prime ministers and captains of industry to help it provide expert analysis of the strengths and opportunities offered by different countries’ economies. For the record, Business Outlook has, in the past two years, worked with such countries as Oman and Bahrain in Asia, Barbados and Paraguay in America, Malta and Portugal in Europe, and Nigeria and Seychelles in Africa. Clearly, this is not some briefcase firm that charges peanuts for its work!
To, therefore, think that such a firm would want to promote the Malawi brand with no strings attached is naivety of the highest order! The kind that must not be tolerated in any Malawi Government ministry that is worth its salt!
Secondly, Time magazine, the auspicious magazine in which Business Outlook publishes such articles as the ones it did for Malawi, is not some free-for-all type of magazine printed on some cheap-paper-in-a tonner-low-printer in some back office in a red-starred building in Limbe, where anyone can just take their articles to for free publication! No!
Time magazine is considered by many, and not without any merit, as the world’s most respected news magazine, which has been in circulation since 1923, when its first edition was published. Given the magazine’s global reputation, it is no wonder that it is a publication of choice for firms such as Business Outlook.
Now, for the director of information to claim that Business Outlook came of its own volition, offered its services to Malawi, and that the Ministry of Information was shocked by the bill, portrays a naivety of the highest order from the ministry.
I am not so much as against the commissioning of the articles as I am against the naivety shown in the whole process, which is not befitting of the calibre of people that should be entrusted with making decisions on our collective behalf. Naivety is indeed costly. Consider how many bags of maize the K295 million could have purchased for our stock-less Admarc depots! That is how costly the ministry’s naivety has been to Malawians.