The Title is quite loaded: Restoring Patriotism and Professionalism in the Workplace. There is quite a lot one could share on such a pertinent topic. For tonight, I have chosen a very practical (as opposed to theoretical and academic) approach. The reason being that I believe the aim of this interface is to make the discussion relevant and applicable to the challenges which our society is currently faced with in areas of professional standards across all sectors of the economy.
There is a responsibility on my part, therefore, to be as pragmatic as possible in order to lay the ground for effective discussions with remedial actions or proposals in mind.
In my understanding of the theme, there is a clear recognition that the twin values of Patriotism and Professionalism might hold the key to unblocking the considerable potential the working majority possess in order to move our economy forward. I fully subscribe to that view and my presentation proceeds on that basis. The bottom line is that Professionalism & Patriotism require each one of us to take an active role. In order to undertake a huge project effectively, it is usually broken down into smaller tasks which are then assigned to implementing units responsible for their portion: when each does their part well, the entire project will be a success. Like Nehemiah’s rebuilding exercise in the bible, restoring these values will require every single one of us taking responsibility for the wall right in front of; as we do our part faithfully, the rest of the edifice will emerge, strong and ready to serve all of us!
Some Matters of Definition
In order to ensure we are all on the same page I have decided to provide simplified definitions of the key concepts in the theme:
Workplace: One should not think of this as only the office, where men and women in suits or some formal dress gather from Monday to Friday to earn a living (as we sometimes say). Rather in this conversation the term workplace refers to any space where productive human activity is undertaken be it on the farm (a small private garden or the big estate), at the small garage in Biwi fixing motorcycles, in the bank or at Capital Hill, in the classroom or at the private clinic or public hospital even when a charity worker visits a flood stricken location to distribute relief items; all these are workplaces to different people.
In other words, I would like us to conceive of the workplace in the broadest and most comprehensive terms imaginable.
Professionalism in this context refers to the manner in which one performs his or her work: this connotes the discharge of your work with your best skills and ability in accordance with well-defined standards of proficiency and ethics appropriate to your trade or profession. Most professions such as medicine, teaching, law, accounting, engineering etc. have Professional Codes of Ethics as well as Performance Indicators of a job well done. Professionalism describes the performance of work in fidelity to such established standards of expected delivery.
Patriotism, on the other hand, describes one’s attitude to one’s homeland or country of birth or residence. In its simplest sense it refers to the disposition of doing that which is good for one’s country as opposed to thinking only of yourself and your loved ones. In my view, it stems from a decision rooted in the simple realization of the blessing of having a homeland from which one can gainfully undertake life and pursue the opportunities that come with that. In that sense, patriotism is foundational to a healthy sense of personal dignity; without such one usually lacks the sense of security and belonging which provides the springboard for productive living.
Practical instances of lack of Professionalism and Patriotism
I would like to highlight some instances in which lack of professionalism and patriotism might manifest in our society:
1. When a clinical officer or other health practitioner diverts medical supplies meant for a public hospital to his or her private clinic and allow the ordinary citizen to go without access to basic health care, that is quite unpatriotic
2. When a teacher neglects to provide adequate learning in class in order that learners can pay for extra classes or when a male lecturer uses his position to exploit female learners sexually in return for grades that is quite unpatriotic and unprofessional
3. When an engineer certifies a substandard project as duly completed and in collusion with the accountant processes full payment for shoddy work that is clearly unprofessional (and places lives of end-users, whether it is a road or other infrastructure in real jeopardy)
4. If court staff connive with litigants to misplace vital documents of evidence and compromise the outcome of a case, that is clearly unprofessional
5. Whenever a procurement officer connives with a supplier of goods or services to inflate prices at the expense of quality and money value that is clearly unprofessional;
6. When nurses treat their patients without any kindness or consideration and serve only those who can pay for an otherwise free service that is unprofessional
7. When a village headman falsifies the list of beneficiaries for AIP program (or other social transfer mechanisms) in order to benefit himself or his cronies, that is unpatriotic
8. Whenever a religious minister condones the unfaithful behaviour of a church member (and fails to administer discipline because he pays a hefty contribution to the church coffers) that too is quite inappropriate
9. When the recruitment process is compromised based on ethnic or other inappropriate considerations (as opposed to proficiency and merit) that is quite unprofessional
10.Whenever a journalist or editor obtains illicit payments in order not to publish a certain story (or to publish inaccurate reports) that too is quite unprofessional
11.When a police officer turns a blind eye and allows an unroadworthy vehicle to travel with passengers on our roads because he or she has been paid something, that is quite unprofessional.
This list is not exhaustive at all; but I hope it highlights the breadth and depth of such conduct within our workplaces. Such selfish and unprofessional conduct clearly undermines the welfare of people directly and in other systemic ways whose impacts might not be always obvious initially.
Adverse Impacts of Lack of Professionalism & Patriotism in our Workplaces
There are many adverse impacts of unprofessional conduct which one could talk about in summary, unprofessionalism and unpatriotic behaviour has real life consequences. Tonight, I will highlight only a couple because I believe they represent the essence of the rest; allow me therefore to focus on them so that the impact may be appreciated: -
1. In a nutshell failure to act professionally perpetuates injustice and unfairness in the sense that a person may be denied a chance in life to alter their life circumstances (upward social mobility) and that of their family, for example through education.
Nelson Mandela once said – ‘It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine; that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.’ This is also true in Malawi. When we were young and teachers taught faithfully even on small salaries, it was very common to have young people who slept on mats in villages, end up at University of Malawi and subsequently gainfully employed upon completion of their tertiary. What was the impact? Their entire family would be transformed because that one person accessed education and employment fairly. Over the years, whenever I encounter a street vendor who is clearly smart and astute I sometimes ask myself are we sure, this was not a Bank Manager who was betrayed by lack of access to quality public services due to lack of unpatriotic and unprofessional service
2. The second impact is what I call erosion of dignity: A society in which substandard work is certified as properly completed and fully paid for will degenerate into one in which the people’s dignity is greatly diminished; if not addressed, this trend might breed the kind of negative social sentiment which entrenches poverty due to lack of legitimate
opportunities. To reiterate, where standards are enforced, it creates a healthy competition for manpower with the right skills, as well as quality materials. This in turn creates an incentive for innovation. The sum total of this albeit in simplistic terms becomes a society where access to opportunities is strictly on merit hence anyone with the right skills and competencies regardless of status or connections can make it. This creates hope as anyone can improve their life circumstances. –such a society easily becomes a prosperous society.
Inhibitors of Professionalism & Patriotism
Whilst we have already observed that these two values are critical to any social transformation, what can explain their absence? Some factors are technical such as lack of proper technical training, but today I will not focus on those, and others are more what I would call cultural:
1. Besides inadequate technical skills, lack of emphasis on ethical standards is a huge factor in breeding unprofessional conduct. 2. A culture of hypocrisy is one key inhibitor to professionalism: 3. Politicization of matters of common national interest.
Some Remedies to this Malady
1. There is need for ethical education to be emphasized in our formal training (as well as within the workspace): this will go towards creating the right appreciation of the need to uphold standards in the performance of one’s work. Without adequate attention to this aspect of training we can have people with excellent technical skills who have no integrity. The American billionaire Warren Buffet says that when recruiting people, you must look for those with Integrity, Intelligence and Energy (he says if the first one is lacking the last two will kill you) …in other words people who know their job but have no moral compass can cause more harm than good in the workplace.
2. In order to uphold professional standards in the workplace it is necessary to enforce discipline in the event of default. However, experience shows that generally people are happy when the sanctions are enforced on someone else (or someone they don’t like). However, when a boss comes along who wants to hold everyone to account, he is usually labelled as ‘wankhaza’ (i.e., unkind, or harsh); this sort of hypocrisy is so very common that some bosses are discouraged from enforcing the standards (and in the process the entire system falls down). There is need to recognize that unless the standards are enforced it is not possible to have professionalism: but when there is professionalism the benefits accrue to everyone (as merit alone determines who gets the opportunities that come along; and end users of our services are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as our compatriots or fellow men).
3. In order to inculcate a patriotic culture, we must be intentional about crafting a common national identity with strong shared aspirations. The Malawi Vision 2063 provides such a framework for constructing enduring dreams that could transform the welfare of everyone across the breadth and length of this beautiful land. One key driver which has been recognized in that document is the question of Mindset Change. For example, we need a change of mind about the need for people to be held accountable when they are wrong (irrespective of their social status, ethnicity, or other such considerations). Until we can move away from this attitude that seeks to protect my kinsman or kinswoman even when they are in the wrong (and continually hoping to undermine the other side because we believe politics to be pointed towards neo patrimonial appeasement). It will remain difficult to fashion a common identity we can all celebrate as Malawians!
4. We have to learn to reward only merit in the workplace; bosses must not abuse their positions to gain sexual or other favours or to promote businesses that have no capacity to provide the service or product just because they belong to our preferred ethnic or political camp; we fail in our responsibility when we undermine the welfare of the majority in order to advance the interests of the few on grounds that lack any moral justification! It is a matter of justice to ensure that professional and ethical standards prevail in our workplaces: needless to say, a just society is one where we can all thrive (inwardly we all long for such a place).
5. We have to change our conversations from perpetual negativity and begin to identify positive things that we talk and discuss in our private spaces: as I get older and read the stories of other societies which have made some strides on this path, one element they were able to manage is the narrative about themselves. We cannot keep complaining about the failures of those who have gone before us: the question each one has to answer for himself or herself is ‘will I leave behind a better
Malawi for my children and other generations than I found it?’ Is my office better because I am there or not?
I believe the mistake we make as Malawians is that we look to politicians to change this Nation – yes, they too have a big role to play, but so does each one of us have at an individual level. That is why the Bible have a scripture that says = first remove the log that is in your own eye before you remove the speck that is in your brothers’ eye’. Therefore, in closing, I would like to challenge each and every Malawian, are YOU, being professional and patriotic wherever you are? It is not an excuse to use the lack of professionalism and unpatriotic behaviour of others to justify your own- that is why we are where we are- if indeed you desire to change this nation, let each one of us say- even if others are not patriotic and professional, I will be, even if I am alone. All of us in our different professions have a corresponding responsibility: our nation needs our very best if we are going to forge a truly wealthy nation which works for every person, including my cousin in the village!
A keynote address delivered by the Malawi Electoral Commission Chairman, Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale at the Anti-Corruption Bureau Interface and Panel Discussion, Capital Hotel, Lilongwe, Malawi on Tuesday, 29th November 2022.