First Published in the Nation Newspaper of January 31, 2014 • My Turn
The recent Cashgate exposed outlets through which Malawi’s taxpayers’ money has been siphoned by government officials and their cronies. Such criminal activity should not be tolerated in a poor country like Malawi. With limited income-generating capacity, Malawi cannot afford to waste government resources while basic services to its people such as health and education are deteriorating.
As we grapple over how we can stop the draining of our government’s financial resources, I would like to draw attention to one stealthy outlet through which Malawi’s financial resources have been bleeding profusely; the diplomatic service. This is an area that I am very passionate about and I believe is very important to the development of our country. Therefore, I would love to see it take its part in moving Malawi forward.
I am sure many will agree with me that our diplomatic service has been severely abused by politicians and individuals connected to politicians. The service has been used as a vehicle for appeasement, for sending opponents out of sight and worst of all, for appointing friends and family without the necessary expertise or passion to serve our nation. Deployments of officials into diplomatic service should not be used as opportunities for individuals to go abroad for “kukadyelela nawo” (our time to eat) but a call to honourably serve one’s nation.
These developments have created many undesirable elements in our diplomatic services, such as: (1) Lack of institutional continuity in the services due to failure to develop career diplomats; (2) Failure to maximise on benefits from our relationships with our partner countries due to deploying individuals who are sometimes not fully equipped. For example, an attaché of a crucial and specialised field such as investments with no expertise or experience in the field; (3) Diplomats living on the edge because many of them work with clouds of impending recalls over their heads or perpetual recall letters issued but just waiting execution. How can diplomats function effectively in such an environment?; (4) Diplomats who have to look over their shoulders if (at all) they provide service to any Malawian citizen with ties to opposition parties; (5) The cost of change which comes with any change of government or when some politician falls out of favour with the powers that be. These trigger avalanches of recalls and reappointments which involve massive shipping and travel costs.
Indeed it is understandable that usually a mission has a political affairs attaché who is likely to be a political appointee, but let us try to restrict that to the political affairs attachés or heads of missions.
And while we are on the subject, I believe the closure of the Malawi High Commission in Canada was one of the worst decisions that Malawi ever made in its diplomatic services. Canada has one of the greatest track records when it comes to the development of Malawi and training Malawian experts. I am sure that in the near future, we will realise that the closure of this crucial mission should not have happened. Hopefully, our office building and diplomats’ houses, which I understand were Malawi’s assets, were not sold off. However, if they were sold off, then let us hope they were sold at market value and that the proceeds were put to good use.
Therefore, I would like to challenge our presidential candidates to promise Malawians that they shall stop the abuse of the diplomatic service and revamp it into a vibrant service of well-trained career diplomats; real servants of the State who will be fully equipped to render the diplomatic service a major player in the development of Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa.
This article was first Published in the Nation Newspaper of January 31, 2014 • My Turn Opinion Features. It is also available on the Nation Online website at this link.