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Public Service Reforms, A Step Towards Public Sector Accountability

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The echoes of promises bouncing back from Malawi’s maiden tripartite elections campaign are now getting louder as the second among top three manifesto promises made by President Arthur Peter Mutharika and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was recently set rolling.

It is always pleasing to see promises being fulfilled, albeit much more to see them made and fulfilled in a political context. Many have argued that fulfillment of promises in politics is one of the few ways that politics presents itself with a human face. It restores the necessary hope and confidence in the art of governance.

One of such promises to be recently fulfilled is the DPP regime’s launch of the Public Service Reforms Agenda with which the party went around seeking mandate to govern on the basis that they would change the way government provides services to the public and restore professionalism, efficiency and effectiveness. That is a very massive promise and an ambitious undertaking that any government can set out for.

Having witnessed and read of many other attempts at reforming the public sector, the newly launched Reforms agenda naturally produces two kinds of skeptics. The first ones are those that are quick to conclude that this particular time, another attempt on reforms will fail, and just add to the pile of broken cisterns that were meant to be reforms. These may be justified, but I belong to the second group of skeptics that are inclined to positively embrace this attempt only if I am well convinced that this time around, necessary effort has been made so that the process does indeed reap the desired results and really transform the nation.

I was trying to soul-search as to why I am part of the group that is inclined to embrace these reforms; what drew my interest this time so that I would even be motivated to put these thoughts on paper? For me the bait that hooked me was the preeminent position of the Youth in this agenda this time around. I was very pleased when the youthful Vice President Saulos Chilima was vested with the responsibility of chairing the Public Service Reforms Commission.

That’s the trick that did it for me. To see a dedicated youthful man like him caught my attention; not to mention the immediate quick-win results that came out of the Commission’s work and the preliminary report circulated in December 2014.

By the time the Commission announced that they would be wrapping up their work and submitting their final report for the launch by February 2015, I was completely immersed in the available paperwork still trying to discover why such reforms would work this time around. I found two pillars that are sustaining the Reforms Agenda and may continue to do so if jealously guarded.

The first and most important is the political will to reform the public service from the ruling elite. The Vice President’s chairing of the Commission is one apparent sign of the political commitment that the Reforms Agenda is receiving. There has been overflowing political will from the leadership. That political will has allowed the Commission to consult widely rather than just go by the ideas of the champions of the cause. This is not only a result of political will, but that which is coupled with mature politics as well.

The second aspect of the success formula that I observed was from the Final Public Service Reforms Report and the launch itself and it is the amount of accountability that seems to be built into the programme. I should mention that this is the second time I have seen this regime as being committed to raising the profile of accountability in the way Malawians are governed. The first time was when President Mutharika, upon his return from the United Nations General Assembly, requested ministries through Principle Secretaries to compile areas of investment in their respective ministries and later on brought them together in a compendium of development projects that was made available for all.

This time though, I am interested in the way the Public Service Reforms are being implemented. This time around the reforms have an inherent Performance Management mechanism that is tied up with accountability, unity, responsiveness and professionalism. In the implementation arrangement there shall be the development of individual performance contracts between specific reporting levels, based on agreed targets as per Annual Action Plans. An Organizational Performance Agreement (OPA) framework will be established where performance contracts between the President and Cabinet Ministers, and between ministers and relevant Principle Secretaries, are being signed.

This way, Malawi Government will be able to record strategic outcomes and outcome targets, indicators, allocated financial resources and systematically collect relevant information for monitoring and measuring performance to track progress captured in the OPA report. Moreober. OPAs will provide a benchmark for public service performance and accountability.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will not do my pen justice if I do not let it record this: The main pillars on which the Public Sector Reforms Agenda is resting on are promising a successful implementation and a catalyst we have been looking for as a nation seeking Reforms to fasttrack development.. These are Political Will and Performance Accountability. If these can be sustained, I am certain that this time around we will record the much needed change in public service delivery.

Therefore, I ask Mr Z Allan Ntata if there is no Political Will in the Reforms Agenda. Because, in my opinion, because we have political will this time around, we have seen the removal of some ‘initiatives’ out of State House to their respective ministries. This and many other quick win results we have show that this regime under Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika has offered all the political will needed to drive this agenda. Another sign that there is immense political will is the fact that the PubIic Sector Reforms Commission is open to take up various ideas on board such as Mr Ntata’s! I suspect that our honorable and beloved barrister has not yet read the report released on the launch in February, however, I might be wrong.
Regards.

Tadala Mwale

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