I must have known his name, at least.
But I know there is a civil servant somewhere at the Capital Hill employed, specifically, to ensure that every primary school teacher in the country is paid by the 27th of each month.
As of Wednesday last week, ‘that civil servant’, courtesy of taxpayers’ money, already got his or her October salary. Today, he or she has nothing to worry about: the rentals, the bills, the fees—all have been settled.
Yet, as of Wednesday last week, some primary school teachers in Blantyre were yet to get their salaries.
I know the torment such primary school teachers have endured. They have to hide from their landlords; from pricking questions from their children as supplies run out at home—and some, I can only imagine, have already had power and water disconnected.
And ‘that civil servant’, as of Wednesday last week, still had his or her child, with a packed meal in school.
But in Blantyre, because of ‘that civil servant’, hundreds of irate pupils revolted from classrooms without teachers and spilled their rage in the streets.
The collective scale of damage from these irate pupils on innocent people and properties is something, I know, should have been avoided.
It should have been avoided because the story of delayed salaries for primary school teachers is nothing unusual in Malawi. What is unusual, though, is its tenacity.
But why always teachers?
I know government has a list of excuses to explain their failures. I clinched my fists and gnawed my teeth when some spokesperson from the Ministry of Education connected the delay to challenges of decentralisation.
Does that mean its only teachers whom decentralisation fails to work with? Quite foolish!
To be honest, in tackling the question ‘why always teachers?’, it is imperative to look how we reacted to last week’s street invasion by the irate pupils.
Angered by government’s delay to pay the teachers, we, almost in unison, quickly picked on the incident and used it as symptomatic of President Peter Mutharika’s failure of leadership.
In anger, not analysis, we called—and some are still calling—Mutharika all sort of disparaging names bordering on leadership failure.
I understand, as the tallest tree in the forest, Mutharika bears the burden of every flaw, however slight, from his government.
However, I feel our appetite of quickly taking the blame to the higher office is helping responsible civil servants at the Capital Hill to be irresponsible, in the process, failing to account for their failures.
The story of delayed salaries is a classic case of technical failure by some civil servants, like ‘that civil servant’, at the Capital Hill. Such civil servants are the root of the continued story of delayed primary school teacher’s salaries.
They need to be smoked out and face the full wrath of continued getting paid when they do not requirements of their job’s terms of reference.
A culture is taking root in Malawi where irresponsibility on part of civil servants is not being punished. In fact, it is heavily rewarded.
For all the countless times that teachers have suffered delayed salaries, we have not heard of any official being held responsible. I am sure it has become a norm at Capital Hill to mess up teacher’s salaries because they know the public will quickly spit venom at the President not them. As a result, they do not see messing up teachers’ salaries as indicative of job failure anymore.
I think this is the rotten norm which, as a country, we need to fight. How? We need to shift our focus of criticism from the President to the technical officials at Capital Hill. Those responsible for ensuring that primary school teachers are paid by 27th each month need to be responsible for their failure.
I guess there are relevant parliamentary committees that, I guess, need to summon principal secretaries in education and finance to explain the mess.
Continuing as if nothing wrong has happened to teachers could suggest that, as a country, we do not value the worth of teachers—more so, education.
To that effect, it is my submission that our appetite of always looking to the President, not ‘that civil servant’, is the reason we are caught in the cyclic problem of delayed primary school teachers’ salaries.