On passports, leaked reports and others

This week has all been about the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services, the opposition and members of Parliament responding to the 2024/25 National Budget Statement and what is believed to be a leaked Public Service Systems Review Report. In all the issues, I found just a few heartwarming sparks worth writing home about.

With just a day before the expiry of the 21-day Presidential ultimatum to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services to start issuing passports, the department did not want to disappoint. On Tuesday this week, it announced that it had completed restoration of the e-Passport Issuance System. But the printing of the passports will start gradually in Lilongwe this week before expanding the services to other regions.

The icing on the cake was the announcement that government had reduced the e-Passport fee for local Malawians from K90 000 to K50 000 for ordinary passports. There was better ‘good’ news. When the system is fully calibrated and operating optimally, the waiting processing time will be 10 days. 

There can be nothing more heartwarming to Malawians than having this department promising efficiency. People cannot demand more than what the MDA is mandated to do. By promising optimal performance, the department is not doing anyone a favour. The sooner this comes to fruition the better for Malawians.

The reduction in fees for the document from K90 000 to K50 000 is what the Tonse administration promised Malawians. A passport is a lifeline for many people doing cross-border business. So the reduction in fees is what they have been waiting for from the very first day President Lazarus Chakwera occupied Plot Number One on June 28 2020.

Then we had Parliament returning to plenary sessions on Monday where members started responding to the National Budget statement presented to Parliament two weeks earlier. Opposition spokespersons for finance started the debate. Joseph Mwanamvekha for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kapichira  Mussa for the United Democratic Front, aptly captured the economic and social malaise the country is going through and how the national budget falls short of addressing the problems. They ably pointed out the areas of concern and red flags in the budget. Among them the huge allocation to State Residences, the ballooning of the public debt—expected to rise to K14 trillion by the end of this year—the suspiciously unrealistic economic growth projection of 3.6 percent from 2.2 percent in the 2023/24 financial year. Others were the Malawi Revenue Authority revenue projections of K3.2 trillion after the tax collecting body failed to collect K2.2 trillion during the 2023/24 fiscal year.

But these are the same issues which economic experts and social commentators already pointed out in their analyses of the national economic blue print. Malawians were, therefore, expecting the opposition to hear what solutions the opposition members would bring if they were in government today. The opposition members are paid because they have an obligation to make the Executive run the government better. Unfortunately, typical of Malawi’s opposition members of Parliament, they provided nothing as a government in-waiting. This is a missed opportunity.

Last but not least, we had what is suspected to be a leaked Public Service Systems Review Report. What people see as President Chakwera’s undoing on the matter is that he has kept the report as a classified matter. But people argue that this is wrong; first because the President publicly announced he had set up a taskforce to conduct an investigation and make recommendations on how to make the public service more efficient and cut public expenditure. Further, this taskforce was funded by taxpayers and therefore they are entitled to know its contents.

But the President has said the report was not for public consumption because it was not an end in itself. Well and good but if that was the case, then he should not, in the first place, have made a public pronouncement when setting up the task force.

As to who has leaked the report now and why, after it has been kept under wraps since May 2021, does not seem to be a big issue in a country where nothing is expected to be hidden permanently. But more importantly, there is now an outcry from some members of the civil society that the President should implement the recommendations in the report. They are missing the point.

I think the first issue the CSOs should be pushing for is that the President should give his opinion of the report the task force headed by Vice-President Saulos Chilima submitted to him. Right now it is not known if the leaked document is the same one that was submitted to the President. Giving his stand on the genuine report would clear all the noise about the document.

The post On passports, leaked reports and others first appeared on The Nation Online.

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