Malawi embarks on public service reform

LILONGWE – Malawian President Peter Mutharika on Wednesday launched a reform program aimed at boosting the efficacy of public services in the southern African country.

"I do not want the civil service to do the same things they used to do," Mutharika declared at a launch ceremony held in capital Lilongwe.

"There must be change in the way we do business. Reforms will be done, and will be done now," he asserted.

Mutharika then publicly signed an operational performance agreement with his ministers to show his commitment to the planned raft of reforms.

The agreement provides clear steps so that the country's civil service performs at optimal levels, while civil servants are made fully accountable.

"Malawians want change, and this change will be made because we all want change," said Mutharika.

In June of 2014, Mutharika established the Public Service Reform Commission in line with campaign promises to create a dynamic and efficient public service.

Vice President Saulos Chilima, the commission's chairperson, said the nation's public services must be streamlined so they no longer suffer from obsolescence and lethargy.

Malawi's civil service has evolved from a British colonial service that had been a largely independent, non-political and meritocratic administration for governing the state.

But today, the service faces myriad problems, including weak governance structures; an abundance of red tape; poor accountability; low professional standards; waste and corruption; low productivity; redundancy; and a bloated staff structure, according to the reform commission.

Last year, top civil servants were implicated in the pilfering of some $100 million in a public service scandal locally known as "Cashgate."

-Will-

Since 1964, there have been 79 attempts to reform Malawi's public sector.

The results, however, have not been encouraging.

But Mutharika says he is committed to making the new reforms work.

"I promise you that there is political will to make these reforms effective," he said. "This will be our way from now on."

Because of the reforms, Malawi over the past four months has implemented a number of notable changes, including changes to the government structure.

For example, Mutharika is expected to halve the number of principle secretaries in government from 93 to around 40.

The government has also ordered the heads of government institutions not to attend political rallies, while civil servants – especially women – have been barred from dancing at such events.

Happy Kayuni, associate professor of public administration at the University of Malawi's Chancellor College, said earlier reforms had failed because they were externally driven and did not take account of internal expectations and socio-cultural realities.

"Most of the earlier reforms were driven especially by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)," he told AA.

"The challenge with externally driven reforms is that those pushing for them do not take into account the social, economic and political dynamics of host nations," the scholar explained.

He added: "They believe their reforms will work simply because they have worked elsewhere."

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