The first step in curing a patient is to diagnose the real disease. Headache or constipation may be only symptoms; the real disease may be deeper in the body. Once a doctor has diagnosed the real disease he or she can administer the right medicine as far as he or she knows.
The Malawi economy is sickly. Its growth is stunted. But do we fully understand the causes of the economy’s slow march towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?
Most people have correctly expressed the need for more engineers, doctors and scientists if the Malawi economy is to grow at higher speeds. Seldom do they refer to management and yet this is the skill whose deficiency in the economy has been the major cause of Malawi’s underperformance in the race of economic development.
We, sometimes, talk as if management and business management or administration means the same thing. They are related but are not identical. Business management is specialism within management.
The late Dr Peter F. Drucker, the most famous guru of management of the 20th century had this to say: Management is about human being. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance to make their strength effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. One of the basic challenges of managers in a developing country is to find and identify those part of their own tradition, history and culture that can be used as management building blocks. Management must also enable the enterprise and each of the members to grow and develop as needs and opportunities change.
What we learn from Drucker’s lucid writings is that management exists or ought to exist wherever people work in groups such as a hospital, trade union, a business, a university or church. The role of the manager, whatever he is called by name, is to get things done jointly and effectively.
Can we say that all people in Malawi who hold senior position in the public and private sectors are committed to national goals? When a senior public servant, a principal secretary or chief executive whose other title is financial controller steals the money that is budgeted for their organisations, can we say all people we have employed as managers care about national goals.
We may have all the engineers, all the scientists we need but if the organisations to which they are attached are managed by incompetent or dishonest generalists that we call managers, the engineers and scientists will not do their best.
The Cashgate scandal should compel us to look carefully at people who exercise managerial duties. Do we appoint the best available in the country or just those who happen to be available in the favourite part of the country. Cashgate scandals are the natural outcome of making appointments without regard to merit. A person is appointed on merit if he or she has the skills, character and commitment to achieve the expressed goals of the organisation.
We do not have to tell businesspeople to appoint staff on merit. If they do not, their business will suffer losses. In the public service, the bottom line is not the criterion by which managers (principal secretary for example) is judged. A principal secretary may not be contributing anything visible to the goals of the ministry, yet he or she is nevertheless kept on for years. If you, as a company chief executive, fail years after years to manage the company profitably, your days are numbered.
I believe in the advice of experts when things are not working well. Suppose you are on a ship and storm suddenly start raging. At that point, the crew goes on strike demanding higher pay. You tell the strikers that they are exposing everybody’s life even their own to danger, still the strikers insist on pay hikes first.
At present donors will continue withholding their usual budgetary support unless the Cashgate trials are conducted with determination. Suspending trials at this time is like stopping work on a ship while the storms are raging.
My approach is not who is to blame for the judiciary staff on strike. But what is the right thing to do? It is a challenge for those who wield responsibilities of management. Teachers not paid on time and pupils demonstrating in streets all these can be attributed to poor management. Let us improve the quality of management in all institutions so that specialists may perform to their best. This is the road to development.