Are the reforms just noise? In this feature, our contributor THOKOZANI NKHOMA looks at the progress the public service reforms has made so far as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led government turns one year in office.
Before the launch of the public service reforms in February this year, Vice-President Saulos Chilima was always on the road, meeting with various people, selling the reforms. Three months after the launch, Chilima is still on the road. This time, he is meeting with parastatal heads and captains of the industry but still selling the reforms.
As we speak, Chilima and the commission are this week engaging parastatals from the centre and the North in Lilongwe in a report-back meeting on areas of reform the parastatals have identified after a period of 30 days the commission gave them.
To a nation anxious to see the reforms translating, especially against the background of 79 other reforms attempts drowned in a sea of failure, Chilima’s continued engagement make the public wait with bated breath each passing day to see the results and turn around productivity in the civil service.
Some have argued that the reforms are purely academic and leave much to be desired.
However, it seems there is still hope that may be this time the commission will achieve tangible results in light of the following:
Depoliticising the public service
Unlike in the past, public servants are now concentrating on their core duties—a move experts argue would save the country money amounting to K1 billion a year. Of particular interest are principal secretaries, chief executive officers of public institutions and other senior public officers. They were directed that their attendance to functions should be limited to only those presidential and other functions where their presence is directly necessary or relevant to their duties. The directive also extended to women civil servants. These days they are not expected to attend public functions, except where it is an anniversary, commemoration or celebration that is directly related to their profession or organisation.
Further, President Mutharika also responded positively to the outcry of Malawians by taking a new right turn on the appointment of public officers above the post of Grade F (Under Secretary). He announced that appointment of officers above the post of Grade F should be on a fair, competitive, transparent, and merit-based selection process.
Civil service restructuring
Government’s move to restructure the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), has not only made OPC concentrate on its core functions, but also enabled the departments involved to deliver their services effectively. Government relocated some of OPC functions to relevant ministries, namely: the Department of HIV/Aids and Nutrition has been moved to the Ministry of Health; the National Registration Bureau has been moved to Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security; and the Government Contracting Unit (GCU) has been moved to the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP), to mention but a few. The work of the departments will also be properly coordinated with the sectoral ministries due to elimination of overlaps. This further enhances capacity of these respective departments as there is readily available pool of experts in the Ministries that could be ably used as source of information where necessary.
The reforms which called for the creation of a One-Stop-Centre for investment at Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (Mitc) in Lilongwe have improved the ease of doing business in Malawi. The centre is now functional. Today, investors are able to access services for establishing business investments from a single point.
Reforming home affairs and internal security
The Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security through the Department of Immigration has decentralised passport printing services to Lilongwe and Mzuzu; and will soon roll out passport services to Malawi Posts Corporation. This, arguably, has made people’s lives easier because they will not be spending much money and time as was the case previously by travelling long distances to get Immigration services.
Additionally, the Department of Immigration is in the process of operationalising online visa application system. The move, if finalised, would create new opportunities to potential investors and tourists who were failing to access Malawian Visas because they come from countries where Malawi is not represented by way of having an Embassy or a Consular Office. But thanks to this reform initiative, they will now easily access Malawian Visas, so that in return when they invest in Malawi they will be contributing to the much-needed socio–economic development.
Not only that. The Department of Immigration is also in the process of computerising permit processing system. This will go a long way in improving efficiency in processing and issuance of various residential and work permits in Malawi. With timely issuance of business and work permits to potential investors, it will make the cost of doing business in Malawi cheaper, thereby making it an attractive destination for investment which will in return boost the country’s economy, bearing in mind that private investments is an engine for economic growth.
As part of reform initiatives, organisational performance assessments have been enforced resulting in the signing of Performance Contracts between the President and Cabinet ministers. Performance is being monitored and measured and progress reports so far show moderate improvement though at process level in many cases.
The reform was responding to laxity in the delivery of public services due to the absence of a robust results-oriented performance management system linked to individual work plans that are closely aligned to organisational performance targets derived from the National Development Plan.
This approach and practice will then be cascaded throughout each respective ministry. Individual performance contracts will be developed between specific reporting levels, based on agreed targets as per Annual Action Plans.
Strengthening financial management
Probably the most anticipated reform area with the background of Cashgate is the enhanced Ifmis-Epicor performance. Its actualisation, experts argue, will certainly improve economic and financial sector policy for sustainable socio-economic growth and development; improve medium-term planning, financial management and monitoring and evaluation system(s); improve resource mobilisation, coordination and debt management; enhance planning and coordination of social protection policies and programmes, improve production of reliable statistics; and improve institutional capacity and organisational efficiency and effectiveness of the ministry. In fact, PFM could arrest any cash gate attempt.
Review of MoH and Cham partnership
The Ministry of Health (MoH) and Cham service level agreement initially used to cover few aspects of the essential health package (EHP) such as maternal and neonatal health as well injuries. The review aims at increasing access to, utilisation of and fostering equity in health care by expanding the scope of coverage. During the first quarter of implementation, the ministry got cabinet approval and is in the process of setting up a negotiating team.
A task team was set up which hired a consultant to conduct a study on how the fund could be set up in Malawi context. The consultant has started work. Once set up, the health fund is expected to improve resource mobilisation for health care and subsequently improve health care delivery in the country.
Here a task force was also set up and a consultant hired to work on international best practices in setting up health insurance. A health insurance fosters equity in access to healthcare through cross subsidisation between; high and low income earners, productive and non productive age groups, and high and low risk individuals. Malawi’s healthcare service delivery has had two major challenges: poor quality and inequity in access to healthcare. The insurance scheme aims to address equity concern while the health fund aims to address the poor quality concern.
As Vice-President Chilima has repeatedly said the challenge, today, is not absence of political will because there is an overflow of political will.
“There is wholehearted political leadership commitment this time around, all public servants and technocrats in the public service are pleaded to swiftly absorb the new philosophy of ‘Making Malawi Work’ and avoid what is termed as ‘administrative trap’ where institutional arrangements become inflexible and driven by narrowly defined management that is unable to take into account the new reform agenda,” he says.
Arguably, time will tell.