Bring back public sector reforms

Honourable folks, the Malawi Public Sector Reforms were one of the DPP’s largest campaign promises during the 2014 Tripartite Elections. APM promised Malawians then that he would strive to fix the rot that created inefficiencies in the public service sector and undermined public delivery.

By the time APM took over in 2014, State-run parastatals including Escom, Malawi Housing Corporation and Admarc among others, were failing to generate enough revenue to carry out their operations, let alone generate a surplus.

As a matter of fact, APM used his alleged commitment to public sector reforms to justify his decision to handpick SKC, then a relatively little-known political rookie, as his running mate.

On paper, it was a partnership that appeared to guarantee success in the noble enterprise to reform the public service. APM, an Ivy-league lawyer was expected to handle the legal side of things, while his younger business-savvy counterpart would instill a corporate culture in State-run parastatals.

This was the duo Malawians, through their vote in 2014, entrusted to “catalyse, drive and facilitate public service reforms for improved, sustainable high quality and timely delivery of services to the public”, according to the Public Service Reform Management Unit’s mandate.

APM and SKC’s had a clear job description and line of action to strengthen procurement protocols and compliance to budget lines to increase efficiency in the private sector.

After all, National Public-Sector Reforms Policy already noted that the underperformance in the public service was caused by poor public sector governance, misallocation and misappropriation of resources in the public service.

But almost six years down the line, government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have not yet mastered the art of sticking to a budget and spending within their means. Bad procurement decisions continue to undermine efficiency.

To date, none of the parastatals that were earmarked for reforms has shown any discernible improvement. It is still business as usual.

For example, bad procurement decisions eroded K18 billion profit Escom posted in 2016 and reduced Escom to a parastatal struggling with a K50 billion deficit in 2018. In the same year government spent a whooping $45 billion to bail out Admarc.

Not only are these parastatals failing to meet their revenue contributions to government, they are also consuming billions of taxpayers’ money for their operations and diverting funds away from critical sectors such as education and health care.

To make matters worse, some parastatals are underperforming because they are owed by MDAs. A Water Boards Management report revealed that MDAs owed Blantyre Water Board over K26 billion last year.

So, it is basically government agencies crippling the operations of State-run enterprises with their unpaid bills. This raises a more disturbing and unsettling question to where the funds allocated to MDAs go if they can’t even pay for basic consumption like water.

One thing that is clear is that government is at the centre of all these malfeasance and inefficiencies. That is why these public sector reforms are very important to Malawi.

If government can improve compliance to budget lines and strengthen procurement protocols in MDAs like they were meant to with these reforms, it would reduce expenditure on non-productive ventures, a development which would promote efficiency.

Not only that, if the MDA were spending according to what was budgeted for, the parastatals that provide them with utilities and services would be paid on time; hence, generate a profit or at least break-even at the end of the financial year.

Increased profits from State-run enterprises would mean greater revenue for government in form of remittances from parastatals and tax collections from the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA). And it is a no-brainer that government needs more cash in its coffers.

Unfortunately, APM and his DPP-led administration seem to have forgotten about the reforms and why they are important to Malawi. Malawi needs those reforms and it is time that those responsible for them should act.

We need a clear path to public sector reforms to ensure their success. We do not want another episode where government claims “success” when misprocurement and abuse of resources persists in MDAs and parastatals.

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