Active citizenship = Service delivery

This week Professor Abiti Joyce Befu (Amai), our leader of delegation, Alhajj Mufti Jean-PhlippeLePoisson, SC (RTD),  Nanga Maigwaigwa, PSC (RTD), and I, the Mohashoi, are  somewhere in Salima  cavorting and  enjoying our beautiful lake’s silver sands.

We are here courtsey of the international citizen empowerment movement, which has put all participants on full board. Participants from the civil service have complained a lot.  They have threatened that if they don’t get an out of pocket allowance by tomorrow morning they will boycott the proceedings and get back to Lilongwe and elsewhere in this Cashgate republic.

The lead trainer and workshop coordinator, Professor Xenophobia Apartheid, has also put down his foot. He has told the civil servants that per government arrangements with development partners, full board means just that. You are accommodated, transported, fed and there is no allowance.

“I know you senior Malawian civil servants, even your Cabinet ministers, are used to double even triple salaries. Your government pays you handsomely. In addition you get paid for fuel, for housing, for transportation, for mobile phones, for your children’s school fees, your hospitalisation, etc., but still demand payment from organisers of conferences and workshops for doing your regular job. Our research shows that a Cabinet minister or Principal Secretary, director, on his or her regular tour of duty gets paid an allowance by the ministry headquarters and also by each institution being toured.  Sometimes the amount organisations are requested to pay Cabinet ministers is fixed. But we cannot….”

“Can we go to the next agenda,” cut in one man in a trembling voice.

“Thank you for your consideration,” Professor Apartheid obliged, amidst muffled laugher from the rest of the participants.

As Professor Apartheid was adjusting computer settings to beam his presentation, some people, mostly those in black suits, with lapels and Malawi Government mini flags pinned to their jackets, walked out one by one.

“So, the room is half empty!” Professor Apartheid exclaimed

“Half full!” I said.

“Excellent!” the professor said, adding, “Our lesson today is about Active Citizenship.  I know most of you have heard about the term or at least call yourselves citizens.

“Citizens have a lot of duties: electing presidents and other leaders; treating people in hospitals; teaching students; cleaning the streets and emptying garbage; generating and distributing electricity; pumping and distributing water…”

“Point of correction!” Nganga jumped in.

“Yes. What is it? You also want to leave,” Apartheid asked.

“They pump and sell water; they generate and sell electricity!’Nganga said, explaining: “Distribution denotes that something is given freely!”

“Correction noted.”

“Malawi is not a socialist or communist country!” I said.

“But communalist!” Apartheid joked before continuing with his presentation.

“In human right-based development planning, the citizens that get paid for providing services are called service providers, civil servants, representatives, councilors, members of Parliament, Cabinet ministers,   among other names.  The remaining citizens are called rights holders. Rights holders pay taxes. These expect service providers to provide uninterrupted quality services.  But, the truth is that service providers are not willing to provide services and they want to have all the services to themselves.”

“But ministers, MPs and other civil servants also pay taxes!” Abiti protested.

“I am not disputing that.  I am only saying that they are reluctant to provide the services. So, to ensure that they are forced to provide the services, rights holders must be active and make their demands evidence-informed, precise, clear and loud. Such citizens are called active citizens. They run government by forcing those in government to perform.  In short, if you are not a service provider but also not active in demanding your rights, you are a passive if not dead citizen!”

“Agreeeeed!”  We applauded.

“All over Africa, I see a lot ofdead citizens. That is mostly why Africa is the poorest continent. Its citizens are mostly dead.”

“That’s not true about Malawi,” protested Nganga. “At least here, we voice out our displeasure and make demands for service delivery. The only problem is that Malawi is cursed!”

“Now that is typical of a dead citizen. No nation on earth is cursed. If you organise yourselves into active citizens, the government will start delivering. The same apparently lazy, incompetent, and thieving civil servants will wake up to a new reality. All over the world politicians and civil servants work and deliver when citizens protest mediocrity,” Apartheid said.

“So what should we be doing to prove that we are active and not dead citizens?” Abiti asked.

“Raise your voice and don’t stop until you are heard. March peacefully until you get services. Score and shame your non-delivering civil servants and above all don’t reward your non-performing politicians with re-election!”

“I totally agree with you Prof.”, said Jean-Philippe, adding, “In 1847 American civil rights activities, Frederick Douglas, said, “Power concedes nothing without demand; it never did and never will.’“

“There you go. And that is why service providers and politicians must get jilted into action. Active citizenship equals service delivery!”. n

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