If you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes. This quote is from Ross Perot, an American billionaire who shook up US presidential politics in the 1990s.
Perot was an astute entrepreneur and was a billionaire by age 38, long before it became fashionable to be this loaded at 38. In 2019, Forbes Magazine estimated his fortune at US$4.1 billion. From that quotation, you can surmise that Perot and the shillyshallying – the trademark of Malawi’s leadership – were parallel lines destined never to meet.
Now, where did that quote come from?
It followed the frustration he experienced when sitting on the General Motors (GM) Board of Directors. Perot had sold his company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), to GM in 1984 for US$2.6 billion. As a part of the deal, he became the largest single GM shareholder and got a seat on the board.
It did not take long before he got fed up with what he termed “GM’s bloated bureaucracy”. He was appalled with the amount of time GM would waste to make what to him were simple decisions.
It was said that while Perot’s motto was “Ready! Fire! Aim!”; GM’s motto seemed to be “Ready! Aim! Aim! Aim!”
Changing gear and moving to current and local affairs, other than the mass demonstrations held on Thursday and Friday, the biggest news on the local scene was President Lazarus Chakwera’s pitiful attempt to clear the air on the utter stupidity of his administration’s prepaying a butcher agency fee of US$725,000 supposedly for the supply of AIP fertiliser with zero due diligence.
To reign in increasing cacophony from discontented Malawians spending inordinate time at filling stations where fuel is hard to come by because of forex challenges, on Tuesday, 25 October 2022, President Chakwera could not help but decree that,
“In exercise of the powers vested in me by Section 89 of the Constitution, I have relieved the Minister of Agriculture and his deputy of their posts in my cabinet with immediate effect.”
Since we already interrogated Lowe’s entanglement with the disappeared butcher man last week, I will not dwell on the sordid details but go deeper to discuss what brought us this shameful loss and how – sadly – President Chakwera seems to have learnt nothing from the debacle.
Despite celebrating AIP’s success last farming season, evidence indicated that leading the smooth implementation of AIP was beyond Hon Lobin Lowe’s abilities, with timeliness being the most significant hurdle.
Knowing this, over six months ago, President Chakwera publicly instructed officials from the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that all arrangements for the distribution of fertiliser under this year’s Affordable Inputs Programme were in place no later than September or failing which they would face the music. President Chakwera’s rare public reprimand was proof enough that the so-called success of AIP in previous years was nothing but a charade.
Unfortunately, due to the perpetuation of this futile façade absolutely out of dissonance with reality, President Chakwera fooled himself and failed to nip the problem in the bud.
This indecisiveness has proved costly, and given the president’s proximity to Hon Lowe, it is cause for personal embarrassment. This is the price paid by the president for preferring GM’s “Ready! Aim! Aim! Aim!” instead of adapting Ross Perot’s “Ready! Fire! Aim!” to “Ready! Aim! Fire!”
Talking of Ross Perot’s EDS vs GM, one commentator observed that at Ross’ EDS, the philosophy was that when you see a snake, you kill it. At General Motors, however, the rule was: when you see a snake,
- First, seek out the best consultants on snakes,
- Then, appoint a committee on snakes, and
- Finally, study snakes for a year or two.
Our situation mirrors GM’s. Chakwera first sought out the best consultants on snakes, studied snakes for two growing seasons, and has finally formed a Cabinet Committee last month to fix the mess.
For the sake of our people in the villages, some of whom AIP is a matter of life or death, we can only hope all ends well.
That said, what I find funny is the drama happening on the sidelines of this mess. You might recall that in February 2021, the Chairperson for the Agricultural Committee of Parliament, Sameer Suleman, was all praise for the Minister of Agriculture and his Deputy.
Making his contribution to the minister’s statement on the progress made in the implementation of the Agricultural Input Programme (AIP), Suleman said when other ministers’ performances were being evaluated, Minister Lobin Lowe and his deputy Agnes Nkusankhoma should be exempted. Suleman hailed the two for their role in addressing the many challenges which rocked the t K160 billion ambitious project, saying,
“Madam Speaker enawo aziwona okha (the others will have to face the music) but for the Minister and the Deputy Minister sanagone.”
Vis-à-vis the current mess, guess who our whistle-blower is. The same Hon Sameer Suleman who was advocating for nothing short of a total sweep at the Ministry of Agriculture, starting from the minister himself, the principal secretaries and the group handling the AIP.
“The president has to fire them and bring in new people that can manage to do the work within the remaining period. Having the same people will not yield anything.
“They have shown that they do not care what is happening. Whether taxpayers’ money is lost or not, they do not care,” he said.
I find this about-turn a bit confusing. In fact, I have a lot of questions for the honourable MP and his committee. I suspect there is more than meets the eye, and he owes us an explanation.
Finally, let me remind the president that leadership is serious business. It is a two-edged sword, and he should realise that Lowe’s blunder is his blunder. And why not? Didn’t General Omar Bradley observe that the greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the people he leads and vice versa?
Putting it bluntly, President Chakwera should never forget that all leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not. Therefore, he might want to reconsider the kind of example(s) he sets because, in all likelihood, Hon Lowe believed he was following the leader.