By Mapwiya Muulupale
“You wouldn’t tolerate an underperforming surgeon in an operating theatre. Why is it that we tolerate underperforming…?” Michael Gove
Ancient kings of Siam (present-day Thailand) would sometimes give a white elephant to their enemies. This apparent ‘Royal gift’ meant doom for the recipient because white elephants were considered sacred and needed special care, were not allowed to work, and could not be sold, given away, or killed.
Hence the recipient was given a mammoth task, and the unwelcome monstrosity would literally eat the new owner’s fortune till bankruptcy.
Before I forget, you may recall that while President Lazarus Chakwera, the Cabinet and his farrago of advisors, the Presidential Taskforce on COVID and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) were busy disbursing and eating money and focussing on all manner of non-priorities; billions of Kwachas for Covid were being hard-heartedly abused, misused and stolen.
The direct outcome of this unmitigated public financial mismanagement disaster prompted late Dr Paul Msoma’s (23 September 1976 – 18 January 2021) to share the posts below on Facebook.
13 January 2021: SOS. In hospital, diagnosed covid positive. The hospital staff are so wonderful, and I can see pain in their eyes. Yes, they have oxygen cylinders, but in my case, they cannot connect me to the much-needed oxygen because the whole Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) has no Oxygen flowmeter. My situation is getting worse, and I desperately need oxygen. Anyone out there who can urgently help please, please, help by donating this very gadget.
13 January 2021: Malawians are so amazing, and God almighty will always keep His people safe. After my plea for help, well-wishers have so far donated over 10 flow meters. Almost every patient in the Isolation ward is connected. Please keep the donations coming. Thank you so much; God bless!
14 January 2021: Day One and feeling super good. No complications at all.
16 January 2021: Please, please Malawi Government and well-wishers, please procure as a matter of life or death as many as possible “Non-Invasive Positive Pressure Ventilation (NIPPVs). The new Covid Strain is dangerous and reduces air saturation drastically to almost zero. The Oxygen cylinders are totally useless once your internal organs have collapsed. The NIPPV takes over some of the functions of one’s internal organs, or else just being on an oxygen cylinder is just as good as a death sentence. I am still alive because l has been on NIPPV provided through my organisation. It is sad that almost all the people l met at KCH and were put on oxygen at the same time as I have joined the Good Lord because they could not access NIPPV. NIPPVs can save more lives!
We lost Paul on 18 January 2021. He was laid to rest on 22 January 2021.
Thanks to late Paul’s SOS, Malawians abroad and at home led by Mr Stanley Kenani and Dr Thandiwe Majenda Hara took matters into their own hands, rallied together under “the Covid Response Private Citizens Initiative”, and raised nearly GB£207,000, which bought oxygen cylinders, PPE and assorted hospital equipment for distribution in hospitals across Malawi.
The initiative saved lives.
Therefore, I am humbled and honoured to join Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in recognising and extolling the Ubuntu spirit manifested by the two’s highly accountable leadership.
While some were making merry with Covid funds and others rubbing the pain of our bereavement into gaping wounds with fancy but ineffectual speeches, Kenani and Hara were saving our souls.
We owe you guys!
In unrelated but related developments, on 29 April 2021, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture announced its intention to award a contract to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation for the “construction of Olympic Standard Swimming Pool and its ancillary structures at Kamuzu Institute of Sports”.
The contract is worth MK9,423,001,681.83.
The Tender was issued on 7 December 2020 under reference no. MoY/SWP/01/20. It stated that “the Malawi Government through the Ministry of Youth and Sports has budgeted funds to support the cost of implementing various activities in the Youth and Sports Sector”. Meaning that this project is not and will not be donor funded.
Like many Malawians, I am yet to understand how in December 2020, when our hospitals had zero, or minimal Oxygen flowmeters and other equipment appealed for by late Paul from his death bed, someone elsewhere was saying:
“Eureka! Swimming pools are the panacea!”
You see, our newest hospital of note, the neglected Kamuzu Central Hospital, was opened 44 years ago. Yet, “Olympic Standard” swimming pools are what we cannot do without!
Look here, I am not against investments in sports development. In fact, no one appreciates sports’ export potential more than I do. Mwai Kumwenda is not enough. We need more girls and boys to fly the flag overseas.
That said, sports development is not a top to bottom process; it entails a bottom-up approach.
Look at football. After a 12-0 baptism by Ghana in 1965, tail between hind legs, we focussed on basics: talent development and identification. Seedlings were planted at grassroots through primary and secondary school structures, then to local area competitions and climaxed in the yet-to-be-replaced Malawi Book Service (MBS) trophy.
Schools were nurseries for clubs and national team.
Brick by brick, upwards, not via fancy arenas; the legends that won the East and Central Africa Cups on 19 November 1978 and successfully defended it in 1979 were made.
Today’s insatiable appetite for high-visibility, low-relevance but high maintenance projects is motivated by first, larger than life egos, then second, bribes.
Consider the Bingu National Stadium (BNS), the Presidential Villas and the Nsanje Port.
· How much did we invest?
· How much income (or socio-economic benefit) have these generated?
· Whose bank account really benefited.
Outcome? Like the white elephant recipients of Siam, we are lumbered with structures of tremendous symbolic but little economic value.
Worse, since we can ill-afford the maintenance costs, these structures are quickly deteriorating into eyesores.
If we cannot afford to regularly mow grass and weeds at BNS, how do we expect to meet swimming pools’ high maintenance costs? Why are we going down this road again?
It is because we have yet again lumbered ourselves with underperforming leadership.
Paraphrasing our opening quotation, if we would not accept or tolerate an underperforming surgeon to operate on us, why do we keep hiring and sustaining underperforming leaders who ill-advisedly think ‘white elephants’ will propel us to prosperity?