The Public Service Reforms Management Unit (PSRMU) at the helm of the reforms in the public service in the country is itself in dire need of reform.
This is clear from the manner the chief director who heads the unit Seodi White treated journalists at the on-going Sectoral Conference on the Implementation of the Public Sector Reforms.
It was a good idea that journalists were invited to cover the conference since it was opened on Monday. But come Tuesday, White whether on instruction from some officials or on her own, felt members of the media were not welcome during the Tuesdays discussions and ordered them out of the conference venue at Sunbird Capital Hotel in Lilongwe.
The impression this created is that the conference wanted to discuss some issues which Malawians did not need to know. What could such things be? Was there anything to hide?
White should have known better that the programme she is heading needs to the media and good publicity now more than at any other time.
More so now because she needs to be sensitive to ensure that she clears the veil of politics that has crowded the programme since it was unceremoniously removed from the person who has most been associated with all its deliverables—Vice-President Saulosi Chilima.
This is also especially true after Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have spoken about their frustration, poor or lack of communication and direction from programme since it was taken away from the Vice-President.
Against this background, White’s agenda number one should have been to prove critics wrong by showing that she hit the ground running when she was appointed to head the programme. And the best way of doing so was by showing the impact that the reforms have brought by improving efficiency and effectiveness in public service delivery.
It has been said that the current public sector reform programme is the 80th that government has undertaken and all the previous ones have had little success, if any. Maybe she can tell the nation that the previous reform programmes have not achieved much because of the media.
It was a good idea that the PSRMU invited the media to the opening of the Sectoral Conference on the Implementation of the Public Sector Reforms because whatever the Public Reforms is doing, is for the benefit of the people of Malawi and as such they need to know the progress on the programme.
In the interest of transparency, White should also have been the first to know that the success of the reforms depends on how well the public embrace it. It was therefore incumbent on the secretariat to ensure that it packages as well as unpacks the issues on the agenda of the conference in such a way that the media understands them and partners with it (secretariat) in making the conference a success.
At a time government is preparing the groundwork to operationalise the Access to Information Act, chasing the media from a public function, should have been the last thing White who has greatly benefited from partnering with the media in her previous engagement at Women in Law for Southern Africa (Wilsa) should have ever thought about.
The media is called the fourth estate not for nothing. It is the eyes and ears of the people; it has the capacity to provide checks and balances to all other branches of government apart from being able to unpack issues to the nation in a way no other agency can do.
White should also have particularly thought about the negative publicity the reforms sector would court after embarrassing journalists by barring them from covering a national forum.