Social Science seminar by Associate Professor A. Chiweza and Mr. Timothy Chirwa
Liberal Constitutionalism and the Failing of a Developing State: Some Reflections on the Collapse of Discipline in the Public Service in Malawi
Since democratisation in the 1990s, many Malawians have lamented the loss of discipline and professional ethic in the public service, and the resulting ineffectiveness and demotivation in the ranks. While there is a broad consensus about the negative state of public confidence in the Public Service and its institutions, there is, however, little agreement as to the underlying causes of this problem. This paper aims to contribute to the discussion by arguing that liberal constitutionalism, especially as misinterpreted and misapplied, has laid a foundation for a very weak, failing, and ineffective government in the country. In particular, the government exhibits this failure in its inability to control discipline among its public officers. Indeed, it is within this context that controlling officers are failing to enforce the applicable disciplinary rules and regulations. As such, the deterioration of discipline and professionalism in the public sector in the country, as has been widely lamented, is thus only a manifestation of the underlying constitutional problem.
In making this argument, the paper uses information gathered through a larger study titled: ‘Ethics Architecture and Declining Public Service Ethical Conduct and Professionalism in Malawi: A Historical Institutional Approach to Explaining Change’ which was carried out within the context of the PAS- SUM Noherd Research Project. The research was carried out between July 2014 and April, 2015. The design for this study was qualitative reflecting a combination of key informant interviews, archival research, and content analysis of Parliamentary Hansards, as well as legal and policy guidelines, and other relevant documents on public service ethics and professionalism in Malawi. These findings have implications on public sector reform discourses and the limits of only relying on technocratic solutions such as training workshops, introduction of Codes of Conduct and other HRM solutions to deal with the problem. These findings illustrate that the institutionalist discourse can inform the study of public ethics and Public Sector Reforms by prompting us to focus on institutional rules and norms to complement other inquiries. Additionally, they point to a need to align these reforms with the suggested review of the Constitution. In this review, there is need to modify the liberal base on which the Constitution is predicated to make it provide for a strong foundation for a strong and effective government which can create conditions that can enable controlling officers to fully control discipline in the public service.
1 Associate Professor, Department of Political and Administrative Studies.
2Legal Coordinator, Faculty of Law and part time Lecturer of Constitutional and Administrative Law in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies.