My heartfelt congratulations to Ms Colleen Zamba for being appointed Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC). In that position you are only the second female person to serve as SPC after Hawa Ndilowe from 2012 to 2014. But that is beside the point.
Many commentators have also hailed your appointment and expressed hope that with your impressive academic and professional profile you will make a difference to that office. Here are a few tips which I am sure if taken aboard will make your work easier and excel where your predecessor failed.
As SPC you are the head of the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and chief advisor to the President on all public service issues. You are therefore the face of the President. If you fail as SPC, the President will also fail and vice versa. If you perform miserably, the victims are all Malawians who are at the receiving end of decisions from Capital Hill.
There is no question OPC is a very busy and sensitive office. You will therefore need to have strong support systems. One of the areas your predecessor did not impress was on responsiveness to issues that required his office to take swift action. Many are issues where OPC needs to make quick and sound decisions for the public service to move on.
Take, for example, procurement of contractors for various projects. Granted government has processes of ensuring fairness, equity and value for money. But OPC should not delay such processes in the name of vetting. Your predecessor did not do well in this area. It was the same with appointments of senior public officers. For the greater part of the two years the Tonse administration has been in government, many public entities have been running without substantive chief executive officers. The buck on such appointments ends with the SPC. It is the SPC who recommends an appointment to the President. But unresponsiveness to matters requiring urgent attention by OPC was the order of the day. There is a cost to that and is not aligned to the objectives of the Public Service Reform Programme government is championing. Ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) cannot embrace reforms if you have a sleeping OPC.
OPC, like all MDAs, are run on taxpayers’ money. Transparency and accountability to the people are therefore at a premium in the manner the office does its work. This was a huge problem with the immediate past CEO of that office. He never availed himself to the press. Your contract as SPC does not have to specify that one of your duties will be interfacing with the media. It is incumbent upon your office to always avail yourself to the media—as the fourth estate in its duty of providing checks and balances on other branches of government on behalf of the taxpayers. Granted, the SPC is a busy person but it is not being polite and respectful to the media to ignore their inquiries in whatever manner they come. Ignore the media at your own peril.
Last but not least in importance, almost all progressive MDAs have spokespersons. This is for a good reason. Why does OPC, busy as it is not have one? With scores of media houses knocking on the door of the office of the SPC every hour, there is no way the bwana at OPC can ably handle all of them. That is why once upon a time OPC had a spokesperson. What happened to that important office?
My plea to you Madam Zamba is that if you want to give that office a good image and positive visibility appointing a spokesperson should be one of your priorities as soon as you settle down in that office. Such a person should be a senior officer who will respond to media inquiries professionally and with maturity.
There is another silver lining with having a spokesperson in an MDA. Apart from interfacing with the media, the spokesperson is the one who absorbs all the pressures from the media and therefore reduces the bwana’s exposure to all manner of bad-mouthing and name-calling by the frustrated sections of the media.