These are the days of developmental States. These are the States which have taken upon themselves the role of managing the economy. While some economic units or firms are privately owned, others are owned by the State which has the responsibility of seeing that both private and public sectors are operating with optimum efficiency.
Growth of an economy is preceded by productivity growth at the firm level. Increased productivity leads to increased production of goods and services.
In recent years, presidents of Malawi have been observed to elevate chiefs into senior positions and to grant civil servants extra holidays following Christmas holidays. These dispensations contributed to productivity and, therefore, indirectly to economic growth. Let us reason together on this.
People called traditional authorities (T/As) are what used to be called native authorities (NAs) during the colonial days. They were chiefs who were authorised by the government to exercise rural local government powers and duties.
Invariably, chiefs were appointed by tribal elders and according to tribal customs, the government just recognised them. Though the governor had the power to depose any chief, he never appointed chiefs. Not in Nyasaland. In Nigeria among the Igbo and in Kenya among the Kikuyu, governors used to appoint what were called warrant chiefs because these large and influential groups had no chief as we understand what a chief is. Warrant chiefs were appointed to implement government policy of indirect rule.
Those appointed as NAs in Nyasaland were sent to the Jeanes School, Domasi in Zomba where they underwent a four-month course in the elements of local government. In wealthier countries such as Tanganyika, now Tanzania, and Uganda, such authorities were even sent to England to learn how the local government system worked there.
Presumably, chiefs promoted to senior positions will command higher salaries than those who were not elevated. Will these salaries correspond with their productivity even without undergoing training of sorts?
Good use could be made of these people in organising self-help weeks which were part of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) administration. They can do this successfully provided people in general do not see them as promoting the interest of political party interests. They must, therefore, be neutral politically.
It is difficult under the multiparty dispensation to organise youth weeks where the youth are aligned with different political parties. That youth and self-help weeks were contributing to capital formation, there is no doubt. During one week of voluntary labour, pot holes in streets were covered up, bricks for school blocks were moulded up and bridges were repaired. When such activities were given a monetary value, billions of kwacha that week were involved without touching government budget.
Incidentally, we are about to see the stratification of our society into estates as in France prior to the 1789 revolution, then the clergy constitutes the first estate, noble constituted the second. The third estate, which was the most numerous, consisted of all sorts of categories of people from labourers to lawyers, office messengers to business tycoons. Together, before the end of King Louis XIV’s rule, they used to act as advisers to estate generals.
In our society, the clergy have grouped themselves into the Public Affairs Committee (PAC). With increasing number of chiefs being elevated, we are about to see an estate of chiefs corresponding to the French nobles while the rest of the people who organise political parties correspond to the third estate. Hopefully, the analogy is not too far-fetched.
Without work, food or wealth in general cannot be created. More work means more wealth. It is hard-working which develops countries. Are we Malawians a hard-working nation?
Up to 1976, the richest man in American was Jean Paul Getty who made his wealth out of the oil industry. In his book How to Be Rich, he wrote: “I can, however, enjoy a hearty private laughter whenever I hear a 28 or 30 years old executive who work at most 48 hours a week, less time he spends having three hours business lunches and playing golf. The truly great giants and geniuses of American business habitually work 16 to 18 hours a day, often seven days a week and seldom took vacation. As a result, most of them live to a ripe old age.”
During the past five or six years, as the Christmas season approached, radios announced that the President has given all civil servants a one-week holiday following the Christmas holiday itself. Are these holidays a reward for hard work? Have we checked how many hours an average civil servant works?
In this global village, so to speak, every Malawian who works is in competition not only with his or her fellow Malawians but also with the citizens of other countries. Taking too many holidays could mean too little productivity and production compared with people of other countries.
Let us stop boasting that we are a hard-working people until we appraise ourselves of how people of other countries work.
A privilege once granted is difficult to withdraw because of the fear you might alienate some influential people and civil servants are not just influential, they are part and parcel of the government machinery. But without reforms, no progress can be made.