Waste not, want not”, was the advice of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States. We shall quote him again below.
Wastefulness is common both by governments and individuals. It exasperates the difficulties they are already having. For example, the Malawi Government is hard pressed to operate within its budget. Despite this, in the April 14 2016 issue of The Nation, we read that members of Parliament were trying to stop the sale of government equipment.
This was in reference to the equipment that government bought with a $50 million loan from the Export Import Bank of India in 2010. The ministry concerned justified the sale by saying the equipment was not serving a useful purpose.
The question is: Why did the officials procure the equipment before checking its quality?
What is quality? According to Crosby, one of the gurus of Total Quality Management, quality is defined as conforming to specification. The offices ought to have demanded of the vendor to offer the product that would perform a specific function.
Other gurus like Juran have defined quality as fitness for use, customers satisfaction, an article that is delighting and enchanting. One wonders whether the buyers were subjected to high pressure salesmanship or they just felt the opportunity to obtain the loan was too good to let it slip through their fingers. Whatever the case, the end result is that they have to resell the wrongly procured equipment possibly at a loss. This is wastefulness.
The second example of wastefulness has been commented on already in the media. A ministry gave a go-ahead to Time magazine of the United States to feature the investment attractiveness of Malawi so as to entice Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The go-ahead was given without first agreeing about the cost of the service. When the magazine later presented its bill, the ministry was flabbergasted.
In both instances, officials carelessness and dereliction were at work. In the majority of cases the civil servants concerned were better educated than the civil servants of the colonial and Kamuzu era, yet they did not apply their superior education and knowledge to the advantage of the public service.
A recurring source of wastefulness is the compensation that government pays to public servants or foreign contractors whose contracts it has abruptly cancelled at the behest of political masters who want to give the contracts to their cronies. Millions of kwachas or dollars are collected by people who have not worked for them while government pays two salaries for one job.
Wastefulness is at work when a ministry buys more expensive vehicles to perform the function that a less expensive one could equally do. Many years ago, I read in a British newspaper a story concerning the French automaker Peugeot. The story stated that its chief executive, who was a descendant of the founder, arrived at the office in a car model similar to those used by other members of staff, instead of one that would signify his higher status.
We have talked about wasting physical resources like money. Another valuable resource is time, about which Benjamin Franklin asked “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.
“Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary action. Up sluggard and waste not life. In the grave will be sleeping enough.”
Other experts on time management say plan what you want to do and work your plan. Planning must include assigning a deadline to every task. You might say “I will start working on this task at 1pm and finish it at 2pm”. Stick to the resolution. Resist interruptions from people who just walk in to say ‘hello, how is home?’
Without deadlines, tasks succumb to the Parkinson’s Law which says that work expands to fill the time for completing it. Without strict deadlines, you may find yourself completing in five days a task that you could have finished in a day. This is a waste of time.
When you have several tasks to perform, list them down on a paper in the order of their importance to you, not to other people. Start with the most important, keep on it until you finish. Then start the next most important. By the end of the day, some of the tasks will remain untouched, never mind, you will obtain satisfaction from having finished those you started. When you try to do everything simultaneously, you find by the end of the day you have not finished any of them. All you have done has been a waste of time!