Vice-President Saulos Chilima has set the tone for his consultation with CEOs of parastatals about the direction they should take to improve efficiency and service delivery.
Some public institutions such as Admarc have performed badly over the years necessitating perpetual financial bailout from government in addition to the annual parliament subvention. Reforming the institutions has become a necessary move to serve the nation better.
However, reforming public institutions is a complex process that requires synergy from different players, long-term high-level commitment and support. The political, social, economic, and technological factors have to be taken into account as well.
Successful public reform programme is shaped by political will which is one of the drivers of change. Political leaders should take a keen interest in what happens in public institutions and ensure things move in the desired direction. Close monitoring is essential and remedial measures have to be taken promptly. Previous governments tried to reform public institutions, but lacked commitment and energy to carry on. And so reforms have been a pipedream.
Internally, capacity assessment needs to be carried out to establish gaps to be filled. This may reveal that capacity development is needed. This presupposes that institutions should be adequately resourced both in terms of personnel and material. The institutions should have adequate staffing level to carry out the work. The personnel should be well trained, have relevant skills and knowledge for the positions they occupy. Recruitment should be on merit and the best person for the job should be awarded the job regardless of where they come from.
The same applies to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Since parastatals are governed by an act of parliament, the recruitment of many CEOs (with an exception of a few) is vested in the board. President Mutharika was usurping the powers of the board to recruit people illegally. For example, he illegally appointed CEOs of Macra, MBC, MRA, Mera etc. This is the duty of the board.
The new government has already made a mistake. The appointment of the Commission General and Deputy General is the work of the Board of MRA as empowered under Part IV (17) of the MRA Act and not the president. Such an anomaly, whether deliberate or an oversight, should not be allowed to continue because it will succeed in promoting regionalism, tribalism and cronyism and contradicting the concept of ' Tifuna Malawi wa tonse'
The technology used by organisations need not be overlooked. Malawi is one country where technology is behind. For example, some public institutions do not have internet. If it is available it is erratic. Worse still, some organisations do not have a website. If they have, it is rarely updated and when one requests information, no one responds. And so you have a dead website! Public institutions need to change the way they communicate with the public. Technology is one of the drivers of change; it enhances service delivery.
It is also a well-known fact some parastatals have failed to deliver because parliament has not been allocating enough resources for their operations. The Anti-Corruption Bureau is one such organisation that requires adequate resources to effectively carry out its mandate. Those that operate on commercial level like Macra and MRA should remit dividends to government at the end of the financial year for development projects. Public financial management is an important ingredient of public reforms that requires close attention.
In some state-owned companies service delivery has been hampered by financial mismanagement, waste and lavish spending by CEOs and senior management. This needs to be checked. They drive expensive vehicles (4×4 such as Toyota Hilux) which consume a lot of fuel. This is drain of institution's resources. A decent light vehicle such as Benz, Audi etc would do. And you wonder a CEO who lives in Area 47 or Area 12 driving a 4x 4 going to work at City Centre. Are we serious as a nation?
State-owned companies are vehicles through which government implements or operationalize its national development programmes. You cannot afford to have a few greedy individuals enjoying lavish packages at the expenses of the service delivery. Serving in parastatals, like in ministries or government departments, is public service.
Public institutions needs people who want to make sacrifices and passion to make a difference in the lives of the people. This is not to suggest that they should be poorly paid. But the remuneration should be adequate enough to attract and motivate staff. Those who want hefty salaries and lavish packages should join the private sector.
Success of reforms will also depend on mind set or attitudes of the employees in the organisation. Employees should take ownership of reforms and contribute to the success of strategic plans in line with national development agenda.
The gender element should not be ignored. It is part of reform process because it is a cross-cutting issue. More women should be increased in decision-making structures of public institutions. This is not to suggest that they will be given positions on a silver platter. But they should be giving an equal opportunity to compete with their male counterparts though affirmative action cannot be rules out altogether.
The picture that images is that public reforms are not an overnight issue. They require time, investment in human and material resources to achieve the desired results. This may entail restructuring of the institutions. Time has come to do things differently to move the country to another level.