Hon. Folks, allow me to say “thank you” to President Peter Mutharika, former President Bakili Muluzi, Information Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa, the clergy of CCAP Blantyre Synod, colleagues in the media, thousands of fellow citizens from various walks of life for the love and care you’ve lavished on us following the death of Raw Stuffer, Edward Chitsulo.
Your prayers and various forms of support—from Sunday March 15 when we lost Ted through Tuesday, March 17 when his body was laid to rest at his home near Nguludi Turn-off in Chiradzulu—were as overwhelming as they were comforting.
I’m sure Village headman Ntepele, whose name Ted used to proudly mention time and again in his Raw Stuff column, saw in the multitude testimony that Chitsulo lived well with other people in this life.
Let me take this opportunity to share with you, folks, another of Ted’s milestone which wasn’t mentioned in the eulogies. A gentleman approached me immediately after Ted’s funeral service at St. Columba CCAP Church in Blantyre on Monday and this is a summary of what he said:
A lot has been said about Mr. Chitsulo’s tremendous contributions to the media. However, I want you to know that I work for a non-governmental organisation and that the French I use in my work is the French he taught me at Livingstonia Secondary School.
That must have been in the early ‘80s when Ted was a secondary school language teacher before he joined the media fraternity. All I can say is: fare thee well, Ted, we shall honour your memory by continuing to fight for free press while, at the same time, striving to uphold high ethical standards.
Now the public sector wage bill. We’ve learned that in this year of “zero aid budget”, when allocations to virtually all sectors that can spur development have been drastically reduced in real terms, the wage bill has grown by 23 percent.
We also know that much of this growth—K30 billion– wasn’t planned for. Rather, government was forced to effect huge pay-hikes by its disgruntled employees who complained about earning “peanuts” when the cost of living kept on rising. Unless a miracle happens, they may demand a huge pay-rise again in the next fiscal year.
The use of collective bargaining and strikes has so far paid dividends to workers in the public sector. Almost always, the workers succeed in forcing the employer to add something tangible to the budgeted wage bill. What suffers in the process is value for money.
Stories abound of civil servants who abandon their work for days, travel to Chipata, Mzuzu or Kyera in Tanzania to buy merchandise for sale. Then there are those who report for duties alright but hardly add value to their employer’s estate, the type that makes government save millions by simply sending them on long holidays during the festive season or whenever an opportunity arises.
These are people who report for duties without a ‘to-do-list’ of any kind, not even a mere thought of it. Such people waste water, electricity, space, tissues, etc., without giving back to government anything of value in return. Yet, when it comes to the use of strikes and collective bargaining, they’re on the frontline, blocking roads, swearing and doing all things unsavoury, intimidating the employer into thinking the world will end unless their demands are met.
We can’t continue operating like that. Government should work with unions to ensure that employee’s right to bargain collectively for a pay-rise and other welfare issues goes with a corresponding duty by the workers to always be in pursuit of excellence when delivering their part of the contract.
The public sector reforms should not only be about hiring the right number of people with requisite qualifications and skills in the rights places. It should also be about changing the “MG” [zaboma] mindset in the public sector.
Unless a job that must be done today is done today and not tomorrow; unless a project that must cost K5 billion, actually costs K5 billion and not K14 billion… the much-touted reforms may not serve as a catalyst for economic growth.
And, continued inertia in the economy will always lead to labour disputes as the kwacha’s value gets eroded while the economy fails to generate much wealth. Still, it will be better to agonise over how to appease disgruntled go-getters than is the case at the moment where even the chaff that deserves the chop ends up being appeased with huge pay-hikes.