On July 6 every year Malawi celebrates its sovereignty. On this day in 1964 Malawi proclaimed independence from Great Britain. This year Malawi attains 54 as an independent state.
Though this may not be significant in the life of a nation, it is worthy of sober reflections. As the saying goes, an unexamined life is not worth living.
As has always been the case, we have been comfortable comparing our achievements with our less-endowed neighbours such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Kenyan, while we make strenuous efforts to ignore other contemporaries such as Dubai Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia for obvious reasons.
For the past 54 years, Malawi, under various and successive governments, has been striving to attain an appreciable level of development for the benefit of its people.
The question as to whether we have made great strides is for all of us to judge as a people. What is not in doubt is the fact that over the period we have received loans, aid and grants from those we have called our development partners and donor agencies for the purpose of and in an attempt to provide various infrastructure and facilities aimed at ensuring our development.
In addition to foreign assistance, our own resources from agriculture, taxes and levies have also facilitated the provision of infrastructure for national development.
These infrastructure and facilities have included health facilities, roads, schools, stadia, hospitals, agricultural input and equipment, vehicles and office buildings.
In spite of the huge sums of money pumped into our various sectors, our progress seems to be too slow for comfort and we seem to be marking time. One of the critical factors that need attention is how we safeguard what we build to ensure a longer lifespan and efficient usage. In short, we need a strong continuance sketch and culture as a nation.
Stories are told how Malawi government procured farm tractors only for the equipment to end up in the hands of cabinet ministers and few connected elites. There has been a huge procurement mess in government over the years, with deals being handed under the table for projects such as road construction and rehabilitation, maize procurement but nobody seems to care.
I was, therefore, not surprised when the other day the Chief Secretary to the government made a damning declaration that property such as computers and motor vehicles donated by development partners are disappearing without a trace in government ministries, agencies and departments. Goodness gracious! So, besides entertaining fraudsters, we are also harbouring hardcore criminals in government who can make a whole motor vehicle disappear?
At the end of the day, Lloyd Muhara needs to realize that the buck stops with him as the top civil servant, otherwise ordinarily people should not be made to suffer because a donated ambulance somewhere disappeared without a trace at a given facility or because law enforcers are stranded since the donated vehicle they were given had been grabbed by a ‘big bwana’ or been damaged by careless drivers.
This can disenfranchise the people and, when they cannot take it anymore, they are at liberty to say enough is enough.
This situation has culminated into a major setback to our progress and manifested in the poor state of the country’s public facilities and infrastructure.
A visit to some of the country’s hospitals gives you a fair idea of what I am referring to. Some of the beds in the wards have been left to rust, torn mosquito nets left as they are, with broken window blades not replaced. Some furniture in public schools procured by the government which got broken have not been fixed and they are packed in corners to rot and occupy space because at the onset of deterioration, no measures were taken in order to keep them in good condition.
Government-owned vehicles are generally not serviced in a manner that will extend their lifespan; the result is that it does not take very long to find most of them sitting on stones with no hope for their salvation. Yet as soon as they are auctioned, they become operational.
The poor state of our roads which are riddled with potholes is a classic example of our poor maintenance culture. They are not maintained according to any schedule, leaving them in the state we find them now.
All our stadia have been run down due to lack of maintenance. Thankfully most of them are being refurbished but at a huge cost.
In our forward march towards development, we will necessarily have to acquire more of such infrastructure and facilities, but mere addition will not solve our problems and result in the improvement we are striving for since by the time we acquire new ones, the old ones we have acquired would have deteriorated because we had failed to service and maintain them properly.
In effect, we will keep inaugurating, commissioning and cutting the sod for new projects but we would still be marking time because our efforts would come to naught and we would be wasting so much money and time without seeing the needed impact. Our lack of maintenance culture is proving very expensive.
We need clear-cut policies and a budget for regular maintenance of our acquisitions. Supervision to ensure that the policies on regular maintenance are adhered to should remain paramount if we are to see any improvement in this area.
In the same direction, there is the need for us to change our attitude towards how we use public facilities and infrastructure. We need to take care of public property.
There is also the need to educate the citizenry to recognise and understand that our not taking care of what we see as public property results in more payment of taxes and waste of the very much needed funds which could go into other projects.