21 June 2014
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing,
And obtains favour from the Lord.”
Congratulations to the President and the First Lady of Malawi on their wedding. And it seems 2014 is a year of celebrations for Malawi. A new President, a state wedding and we shall soon celebrate half a century of independence.
And it is at this moment where we celebrate and send our congratulatory messages that we need to reflect on a specific issue: full colour adverts in our dailies taken by Government Departments, Ministries and Parastatal organisations.
Over the last two decade, I have noted a worrying trend whereby Government Departments, Ministries and Parastatal organisations buy full page and full colour adverts to congratulate the President for anything from opening up a function to getting married. I am not currently in Malawi so I cannot say whether this has happened at the occasion of the President’s wedding. My contention is not the gesture of congratulating the President, in fact it is normal to do so. What I take issue with is the fact that all these Departments and Ministries are fully funded from the tax purse. For the Parastatals, few of them make a profit anyway but most of them depend heavily on Government subventions. Others are literally on life-support going to treasury with a begging bowl month-in month-out. So in effect what is happening is that Government is paying adverts using tax payers’ money. And for what purpose? To what end? To show royalty? To show they love and support the President more? Is it really necessary? And just read the adverts; you have Ministers and their Principal Secretaries even including their middle names, essentially trying to outshine each other. Really? Mpaka mpikisano zomwezi? And I recall one advert where the Secretary to the President and Cabinet took a full colour advert to congratulate the President. Now how absurd is that!
Last time I had checked, a full page black-and-white advert cost over K100,000.00. I presume a full colour full page advert complete with logos should cost a great deal more. Is this money we can afford to just blow? Does Parliament appropriate funds for this purpose? And for these Departments, Ministries and Parastatals, whilst they can afford to be this extravagant at our expense, they cannot even provide basic office necessities for their staff such as beverages and toiletries. Some of them have also been reported to have failed to pay for their water and electricity bills! The only people smiling all the way to the bank are the newspaper owners! Free money if there was one to be made.
My plea therefore is that the new Minister of Finance needs to put this to a stop immediately. If a Minister wants to send a message of congratulations, let him or her do so in person to the President. After all the President is the the CEO of Malawi Inc. and Ministers are the Managers! Pasavute! If the Minister feels that the personal message is not enough, and there is need to put one in the papers (for what purpose I cannot fathom), then the Minister concerned should dip into his or her pocket and pay for the advert (an the system must ensure they do pay). But the Minister of Finance should ban these adverts. And seriously I wonder how the President feels seeing this waste of money? You buy a newspaper, it looks thick and you look forward to a good read only to find that it is full of back to back congratulatory adverts by people who are always complaining of having budget deficits! If the Minister of Finance does not issue a ban, then the President needs step in and put this wastage to a stop once and for all. The President has promised a lean cabinet. Would it not be ironic that instead of channelling savings made from this brave decision, the funds end up just going down the usual drain?
So as we celebrate this state wedding and as we celebrate 50 years of our beautiful country’s independence, let us reflect. Let private companies and individuals take out these adverts. We surely can put this money to good use, one Kwacha at a time.