Transformation of public service

On April 11 2013, President Joyce Banda made an amazing but not surprising revelation. She was presiding over the inauguration of a mango juice project in Salima. She said she had to intervene in the processing of a business licence of the project when the applicants approached her after waiting for too long. A day earlier, the deputy Minister of Finance had made another revelation: Malawi is on position 170 on the Human Development Index, beating only 16 countries, most of which are in conflict. In March, the Oxford University released survey results which projected that it will take 74 years for Malawi to develop.

 A development path is explained by experts in different ways. Economists focus on complicated growth theories. Sociologists dwell on attitudes and relationships. In this article I will try to explain the social aspect.

The late Bingu wa Mutharika once said that Malawi is not poor. He meant that Malawi has abundant resources including good standing on the Peace Index. But such resources are useless if good vision, policies and action are not brought in to balance the equation. In 1965, Taiwan was the same as Malawi in terms of development. But today, Taiwan is far more advanced than we are.

It is observed that Malawi is good at formulating policies at lakeside hotels, only to have them gather dust at Capital Hill. We cannot implement when officers are insensitive to national business. On the other side, productive young men waste energy touting for minibuses and pilfering. Besides this, public resources are plundered through political campaigns which are smoke-screened as development rallies.

Our problems are not shortage of forex or fuel. But rather the problem is low productivity. The rest are just effects. Our production and export levels are too low and at a slow pace. But the situation can be improved with hard work at all levels of human labour. A combination of intellectual output and dedicated manual work has no substitute.Developed countries are such because they worked hard. We are lucky because we look up to them as a reference point and we can achieve development faster.

Another problem I see is that our minds are colonised. The colonialists left us thinking that we cannot do without them. We beg aid, we copied their dressing, we use some laws enacted by them, and we salute their teams. Imagine we still use archaic and irrelevant legislations such as the Witchcraft Act of 1911, Education Act of early 1960s, and some fines in the Penal Code are expressed in British pounds. Does that mean we are failing to redefine ourselves after 50 years of self rule?

Amartya Sen, a Harvard University professor, defined development as the expansion of capabilities for more people to realise their potential as human beings. Do we realise as a nation?

Now what should we do? Transformation of our attitudes is the solution. This change should start from the top—from the President all the way to the ministers, principal secretaries and directors of departments because they plan the future of the country and lead in the execution of policies. When this cadre is transformed, it will be easy to preach and instil the spirit of patriotism to other groups. As a result, we will be able to process business applications of investors in two months and not two years. In Mauritius, it takes less than twenty five days to do a similar task and in Rwanda, it is within 24 hours. Excessive red tape, laziness and corruption are letting us down.

All in all, the thinking and energy of Malawians should be redirected towards activities that can generate wealth. It should not take us 74 years to develop. Let us be looking at 20 years at most, but only if all of us can digest former US president John F. Kennedy’s wisdom: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Otherwise, we will keep looking up to donors to bail us out of our poverty, and exploit us.

—The author works with the Forestry Department in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Management. He writes in his personal capacity.Email :

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