Recently, two State House advisers have made news not for good reasons, but scandals.
President Lazarus Chakwera has processed to dismiss the two special advisers.
However, the problem may be deeper than what we see on the surface.
For some years now, there was no major corruption or fraud scandal that has happened in Malawi without names of senior State House staffers in the mix.
One thing that seems to lead to this rot is that State House, a sacred government establishment that is supposed to be protected from all forms of scandals, has turned into a purely political office with politicians and their cronies running everything, including administration.
By politicians we mean people appointed mostly because of their political lineage and croinyism.
Until 2004, State House Chief of Staff—at one time called director general—was a career civil servant at the level of principal secretaries (PSs).
Only advisers and personal staff were chosen by the President.
However, Bingu wa Mutharika changed that and appointed his lieutenant Ken Zikhale Ng’oma as Chief of Staff. As expected, Zikhale rose in political influence to become what Malawians loosely termed “prime minister’.
When Mutharika’s brother, Peter, came to power, he sustained this tradition or misnomer, extending the appointment of politicians or political appointees to almost all top state house jobs.
Today, correct me if I am wrong, all top jobs at State House—I am talking about established jobs like directors, not andale—are held by people appointed by sitting presidents and mostly politically chosen ones.
While this makes the President comfortable and somehow safe, it puts the nation at some disadvantage because the Head of State and Government is only left with political people who also come from his line of thinking.
There are no career civil servants to help him on a daily basis.
As slow and bureaucratic as our civil service is, its people are better trained and prepared to run government business than self-seeking and randomly selected politicians.
Civil servants will help you get things done using proper channels. Yes, there are also some who mislead politicians so they can steal, but there are many others who do work hard and effectively.
What we have now is a State House which is disturbingly detached from the mainstream civil service.
State House is one of the highly-funded institutions in the country and leaving political appointees to run such an institution is a big mistake for the nation but also puts the President under unnecessary pressure and scrutiny as has happened recently.
From 1964 to 2004, a principal secretary has been the controlling officer at State House. The PS is a higher grade than State House advisers.
Due to politicisation of State House, advisers have assumed—whether ignorantly or sheer arrogance— that they are more senior than principal secretaries.
A story is told of how one political appointee in the previous government would command even the secretary to the President.
We were even told that one commander of the Malawi Defence Force was fired for refusing to take orders from that State House person.
A career civil servant knows and understands how government works.
The President, while needing his political allies around him, also needs the experienced and highly educated civil servants around him because he has to achieve both party and government aspirations without losing sight of dos and don’ts.
Being a government that came on the promise of business unusual, maybe it is time President Chakwera took the State House back to the civil service where it belongs.
Our public service is mirrored on the British Whitehall and that means letting civil servants to do their work to support current governments.