Dar es Salaam — The pictures of a permanent secretary and his minister participating in manual labour at a public hospital could be translated by some observers as akin to that of an army general leading his troops from the front.
But to others the pictures could be reflection of how dysfunctional the governance system has become.
The photos in question were published separately in the media on Monday and Tuesday. They show the ministry of Health PS Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya and the minister of Health Ummy Mwalimu carrying chairs and cleaning the surroundings as they led in an exercise to move the staff of the ministry of Health out of the Maternal and Child Health building at the Muhimbili National Hospital on Sunday and Monday to pave way for accommodation of expectant mothers in the same building.
Both of these media stunts took place after President John Magufuli gave an order during his address to Dar es Salaam elders on Saturday that the ministry of Health staff must vacate the building they occupied in Muhimbili Hospital in order to accommodate expectant mothers who were crowded in a maternity ward in another building at the hospital.
President Magufuli had made an impromptu visit to the Muhimbili's Maternity ward last Wednesday where he found patients sleeping on the floor under unhygienic conditions.
That pregnant women were still sleeping on the floor at the Muhimbili national hospital three months after President Magufuli made his first impromptu visit (on November 9 last year) at the country's foremost hospital when he fired the hospital's director an action that speaks volumes.
It makes the public wonder how deeply dysfunctional the public health care in particular and the civil service in general have become and what it would take to jolt them back into action.
Various questions have been asked as regards to the inefficiency in public services. And reasons have been offered for the causes of inefficiency: from poor pay, lack of motivation unfriendly working conditions, inadequate working facilities, incompetence and poor management.
But observers wonder, for example, what the duties of ministers, permanent secretaries, departmental directors, Regional and District Commissioners, District Executive Directors, Village Executive Officers and the myriad of politicians at every level of government are; if its not to solve problems and challenges facing the people using the means and resources at their disposal on a daily basis. These are representatives of the President of the country in their respective areas and jurisdictions.
A pertinent question here is why this lack of innovation, ambition and compassion in the public service. Is it sheer laziness and or incompetence?
Bureaucracy, corruption and embezzlement have bedeviled the civil service for a long time. And when the newly elected President Magufuli started his 'shock therapy' people, wrongly, thought that the 'system' would wake-up. But it seems it has not.
The public health system for one has remained a sickly affair in the Tanzanian governance system. Services in regional, district hospitals and health centres and clinics in the rural areas remain in pathetic conditions. It is understood that billions of shillings are needed in investments to reduce shortages of medicine and narrow the doctor to patient ratio but some of the improvements just require a change in attitude of the health workers.
The crumbling cleanliness campaign which was launched with fanfare is another case in point. One would expect that the heaps of garbage at markets and clogged sewage systems in major towns would be a thing of the past. But one would be wrong.
What should be done?
Activists, academicians, opposition politicians and other observers have resumed debates on what should be done to renew the "system", making it work again.
Most of them, however, point to the need of a "systematic change" as a way of regaining efficiency in the public service. Zitto Kabwe, the opposition MP for Kigoma urban (ACT-Wazalendo) says he had hoped that President Magufuli would use the opportunity while addressing elders to articulate his plans for a more systematic change.
"We do need a strong man at the helm to shake things up, but more important are strong institutions for sustainability, consistency, continuity and rule of law. I look forward to seeing this vision from the new administration," he wrote in a post to his Facebook page.
A renowned journalist and activist Jenerali Ulimwengu says on his weekly column in The East African that President Magufuli "... cannot do more than scratch the surface unless he anchors his actions in a systematic strategy undergirded by constitutional and legislative foundations. There is a limit to what one man can do."
Prof Kitila Mkumbo says the failure of the public service to automatically cope could be blamed on President Magufuli's leadership style. The President's "... leadership style is quickly paralysing public institutions and undoing all the decentralisation reforms that have been painfully designed and instituted over the past two decades," Prof Mkumbo said.