It remains undisputed that the time public service reforms in the government’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) were seen to be working was when a political figurehead was cracking the whip.
In the Vice-President Saulos Chilima, as leader of the Public Service Reforms Commission, there was a semblance of political will to make them a success.
The pomp that followed the signing ceremonies of performance contracts with ministers happened for a good reason-to give the reforms the political slant that they required.
But as with all good things that happen in this country, politics crept in; the ‘bad blood’ that came between the president and his vice reared its ugly face and the country now finds itself at this particular point in the progress of reforms.
Recently, it was the testimony of some district commissioners that there was little contact between them and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) where the reforms unit is currently based.
That admission was expected, really. The public service reforms in the absence of a key overseer with a high political post like Chilima’s are a non-starter.
It was clear that OPC, even after the appointment of an individual who was a commissioner herself in the Chilima commission, Seodi White, would not have the same appeal to the public servants on the ground.
The reforms, after all, were being instituted against the background that they had failed a spectacular 79 times. Establishing the commission was the 80th attempt and it seems to be failing just as the others before it.
This tendency to never learn from our mistakes is what fails brilliant ideas in the government. In the 79 times that reforms failed to take off, they were under OPC.
The move to OPC was surprising in itself, considering that the commission clearly indicated in its exit report the reasons for the failure of the reforms process the previous 79 times. It was lack of political will and a weak monitoring system, among others.
The commission had thought it obvious that the monitoring of the implementation of reforms would continue on their departure, but they were wrong.
There was a good reason that Chilima’s commission recommended the establishment of a permanent independent reforms commission to play the role of a sounding board and also oversight of the entire reforms agenda.
It was wrong to think the president’s involvement, through OPC, would ensure there is progress in the public service reforms.
In the five months that the reforms unit has been within OPC, the ministries and departments have become cattle without a herdsman, wandering aimlessly waiting to be steered in the right direction.
After two years of implementation, it is safe to say the reforms were still in their infancy and it was not proper for a toddler who was barely able to stand to be forced to walk-that is what fostering the reforms on OPC did.
So, for the Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi to claim that reforms should not be politicised is a fallacy.
There was everything political in the way the commission was disbanded. Through its interaction with parastatals and agencies and strict monitoring of implementation, the OPC was getting some new respect for its attitude and work ethic.
Unfortunately, the President himself was not involved in the supposed successes of the reforms and the commission.
Five months later, it is not true that “whatever the vice-president was doing, we are doing” as Dausi put it.
The DCs have clearly indicated that is not the case and the reforms are not going according to plan and the blame, at the moment, rests with the lack of political will within OPC.