Talking Blues: The futility of halfway measures


“If you keep turning around to see how much you can carry away with you, … you will never progress. No man can swim ashore and take his baggage with him.” Epistula XXII: On the Futility of Halfway Measures, Seneca.

“Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium” translated as “Moral Letters to Lucilius”, referred to by some scholars as “Letters from a Stoic” by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), is a gold mine of a book.

It does not only ooze with inspirational wisdom; it also asks questions that can help a person become a better woman, man, professional or leader when honestly considered. I have extracted a few bits and bytes for our discourse today.

But before I proceed, let us dispense with one burning issue which requires little if any philosophy – only President Lazarus Chakwera’s urgent action.

The past few weeks have seen offices of the National Registration Bureau (NRB) besieged by thousands of Malawians. Issue: the “expiry” of the National Identity Cards is adversely affecting their livelihoods.

If your card expires, accessing banking services, legal services, and communication services is impossible.

Until renewed.

Unfortunately, the renewal is not a one-day process. Nor is it cost-free. In addition to transport costs and renewal fees, our brethren and sistren from rural areas must factor in accommodation and food costs implications.

I have heard that some stakeholders have made various well-meaning suggestions on how to temporarily circumvent this. Temporary solutions, in my view, are beside the point because perusing Chapter 24:01, the National Registration Act, there is, in fact, no clause to the effect that a bona fide citizen’s National Identity Card “expires” over time.

For the avoidance of doubt,

  • Sections 13 (3) expressly talks about renewal to update a photograph and other particulars that require updating.
  • Section 14 should be restricted to this understanding, and only non-citizens’ national identity cards can expire because section 13(2) expressly says so.

The question that arises is: where did the time-delimiting necessitating renewals come from?

Response: This is one of the many nefarious machinations of the former ruling DPP solely designed and intended to make the National Identity Card yet another channel for milking already thin cows. Hence the expiry.

This presents an opportunity for Chakwera at a time when his popularity is heading in the wrong direction. Remedying this scam is a low hanging fruit Chakwera would be remiss not to pluck.

Low hanging fruit thus served to Chakwera, we move on to the hard stuff, the main course if you will.

Seneca, dispensing wisdom on the futility of halfway measures, advises as follows:

“Search the minds of those who cry down what they have desired, who talk about escaping from things which they are unable to do without; you will comprehend that they are lingering of their own free will in a situation which they declare they find it hard and wretched to endure. It is so, my dear Lucilius; there are a few men whom slavery holds fast, but there are many more who hold fast to slavery.”

In our discourse last week, we mourned the avoidable deaths of the 1,100 Malawians we lost to Covid19 while funds set aside to make our country safe were being squandered.

The National Audit Office report is clear. It includes names of the heartless culprits whose greed killed two of our dear Cabinet ministers, viz Minister of Transport and Public Works Mohammed Sidik Mia and Minister of Local Government Lingson Belekanyama and the thousands we are still grieving for.

Police have since rounded up dozens of those who pilfered Covid19 as directed by President Chakwera, and as we speak, one minister, ironically the former Minister of Labour, is now at the Labour Office; not as a minister but deep in the queue of job seekers.

While no one should scoff at these measures, I am of the view that rather than fix the problem once and for all, President Chakwera has, with due respect, lost a huge opportunity.

The halfway measures that Seneca cautions against very much look like the measures Chakwera has instituted to curb the endemic problems of theft and mismanagement of public resources.

Take, for instance, Appendix O – Missing Fuel MK7,650,080. Out of this, MK4,388,620 representing 57%, was requisitioned by Mzati Nkolokosa; MK1,460,000, representing 19% by Edson Mwamvani; and MK1,150,000 representing 15% was requisitioned by one Chikumbutso Mtumodzi.

Looking on the list of those arrested, one only finds Mzati Nkolokosa. Mtumodzi, days after his predecessor was nabbed, is yet to be apprehended. Yet both are named and shamed on the same page of the same audit report.

  • Is there a threshold of accountability below which one can happily fail to account for funds and get away with it?
  • Are some animals more equal
  • Why?

Again, looking at Ken Kandodo’s calamity, nothing adds up.

President Chakwera says he expects his Cabinet ministers to be aware of the goings-on in their ministries and hence his firing.

Fair enough, and kudos, Sir, for setting such a high standard!

But then, why spare the Secretary to President and Cabinet and the Ministers of health, Information and Home Affairs when the NAO Report catalogued litanies of:

  1. a) lack of leadership,
  2. b) contracts awarded without any open competitive tender process, and
  3. c) irregular procurement,

in their ministries?

Isn’t Ken Kanondo just the proverbial fall guy?

Look here, if President Chakwera would have us believe he “cannot have in Cabinet any individuals who either spend money budgeted for one thing on something else or do not ask tough questions to ensure that the money they are spending on something was budgeted for that purpose”;

  • Why keep a Secretary to the President and Cabinet under whose very nose dubious contracts were awarded to some suspects?
  • Why is Chakwera entertaining ministers whose directors ‘drink’ fuel as fish would guzzle water and then go scot-free?
  • Why is Chakwera keen to preserve a minister whose oversight of the CMST is less than impressive?

Indeed, how does Chakwera explain the fact that after the massive Covid19 national failure of leadership that culminated in the untimely demise of two senior cabinet ministers, several notable members of the clergy, many captains of industry and a thousand other beloved Malawians, he still believes that he is presiding over a Cabinet that is delivering?

Delivering what?

You know what? IF Chakwera keeps dillydallying on who to retain or fire despite all else, he will never reshuffle this dismal Cabinet whose collective leadership failure is why Covid19 hit us where it hurts most.

No man, as Seneca observed, can swim ashore and take his baggage with him. Chakwera has no good reason to continue tethering himself to a Cabinet incapable of saving +1,000 souls, let alone its own members.

When fighting corruption, just like in real war, halfway measures never work.