Few might know this boy, of course. But Lonjezo Sithole was a president of Chancellor College Students Union (Succ) at the height of the academic freedom saga in 2011.
As a leader, Lonjezo stood, unshaken, for the cause of academic freedom and defied carrots and sticks to shrink to the dictates of a drunken politician.
The word of his resolve even sneaked to the State House. An invite, as a result, was made by the then leader, Bingu wa Mutharika, to Lonjezo and some union members.
During the meeting—or was it a lecture—the boy was plagued with a torrent of accusations. In fact, one “honourable” senior minister, in a usual fashion of misleading presidents to gain favours, even failed to manufacture a convincing lie against Lonjezo.
Without a sense of shame and integrity, the “honourable” minister told the president that Lonjezo had travelled with Undule Mwakasungura (then leading Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation [CHRR]) to Geneva, Switzerland, to present a report on human rights violations in Malawi.
The grievous dishonour with his lie was not the fact that Undule had travelled with CHRR programmes manager, Levi Mvula. Rather, Lonjezo, the accused, proved to the “honourable” minister that he did not even have a passport. I am told the disgraced “honourable” minister shrunk in a sea of shame like a cat in the rain.
Surprisingly, today, that “honourable” minister is a key figure in the “reformed” civil service, heading a very important organisation that is mandated to sniff things around and establish nothing but the whole truth. Now, what kind of facts, then, will Peter Mutharika be getting from this boss and his organisation to make informed decisions?
I had not met Gerald Viola in person. But his Joshua Kambwiri-like golden voice on Galaxy Radio moved me to listen to how atrocious he became to journalism. Not once but twice had Galaxy Radio, with him on the front, been reprimanded by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) for irresponsible journalism.
Well, Mutharika, in his civil service reform drive, saw through Viola’s deeds, got convinced and catapulted him to a senior and technocratic position of Director of Information at the Ministry of Information.
But still I had not met Viola until Sunday last week. The Director of Information came to our Blantyre newsroom to deliver—I am saying to deliver—a one-paged press statement about government’s position on civil servants’ salary increment. The entire Director of Information is delivering a press statement to newsrooms? Hahahahahahahaha…!
Well, the two cases cited—however similar because they all symbolise how Mutharika is failing to walk the talk on making public appointments based on merit—were just a digress.
My interest, today, is to present my views on what is becoming a public consent that President Peter Mutharika has started well.
In the first place, I need to underline that this public consent is quite recent. We never had it during and after Peter’s Cabinet appointments. In fact, Peter’s Cabinet appointments only managed stir up age-old regional and tribal consciousness among Malawians.
That is why the premise for those advancing that Peter has started well has been last week’s civil service reforms that have seen some initiatives once under the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) being moved to their line ministries.
You would not fault Peter—or is it Saulosi Chilima—for such a long-overdue executive order.
However, as someone troubled by the history of every president “starting well”, I will not waste a sentence with congratulations.
Rather, I will remind the President—or should it be Saulos—that the civil service reforms we witnessed last week are only a drop in the ocean of needs. At the height of the Cashgate last year, I talked to Dr Justin Malewezi, a long time civil servant, about the challenges facing Malawi’s contemporary civil service.
Malewezi underlined that our civil service, these days, is dying because it is highly politicised.
“Juniors can’t work hard because they do not see the ladder of rising through the hierarchy. Politics has removed the ladder and seniors are getting positions due to political connections.
“This is why civil servants are becoming more political than before. Politics has become the medium of rising through the hierarchy,” he said.
Well, Malewezi may not be a god of some sort. But trust me, he is one of the respected politicians in the country—a man who can stand on the anthill and proclaim his innocence.
That is why his “politicisation of civil service” argument need not be whisked away. To me, it represents the fundamental challenge facing the country’s civil service.
How would you feel if you were a graduate who joined the Ministry of Information in 1997 and has been rising through rank and file, dreaming to become a director one day, only to wake up to find that you are taking orders from a newcomer to the system, Viola?
We have a civil service that does not recognise and award hard work and excellence. It awards political connection. If Peter—or is it Saulos—needs to reform the civil service, the first step should not have been making simple executive orders of moving presidential initiatives from OPC to their line ministries. Rather, to show—through actions—that they will build a civil service based on merit. In other words, they will not politicise the civil service.
I can argue, here, without fear that, so far, Peter—or is it Saulos—has not made any tough choice regarding reforming the civil service. What they have done, so far, was just removing from key positions those deemed to be Joyce Banda’s apologists with theirs. To be honest, we have seen this before. Sing me another song please.