Edited By Chikumbutso Mtumodzi:
President Lazarus Chakwera is well aware that while government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) play a crucial role in coordinating and implementing various social and economic projects for the betterment of the people, it is the President who must ensure that these MDAs operate in line with his vision and the agenda of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which he leads. President Chakwera has, therefore, directed that a Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU) be established within the presidency to ensure the President’s direct oversight of specific projects.
The Constitution of Malawi states that, “The President shall provide executive leadership in the interest of national unity in accordance with this Constitution and the laws of the Republic.” Part of the leadership role of the President is the overall agenda setting of the government, and the division of duties and mandates amongst various ministries and agencies.
Leadership can also require the coordination of various government and non-government entities, to bring additional resources to bear on the most pressing issues.
This convening power of the Presidency plays a major role in the success of a Delivery Unit.
The PDU seeks to become the main technical hub within the President’s Office – State House, functioning to support the President to develop, implement and monitor the vision of the government.
It will also provide strategic leadership for key initiatives.
The primary mandate of the PDU comes through the powers of the Presidency as conferred by the Constitution (Chapter VIII), which details the leadership role of the President.
The PDU will provide a ‘delivery’ function to ensure that the President’s agenda is properly articulated, planned and implemented, by relevant MDAs. Key responsibilities include:
.Define and refine a set of priority initiatives which are in the conception or implementation phase, based on priority areas, which will fall under the remit of the Delivery Unit;
.Work with responsible MDAs to agree on timelines, milestones and deliverables for the priority initiatives which will form the basis of the tracking and monitoring;
.Meet regularly with MDAs to track implementation progress, and conduct joint monitoring of projects central and line-ministries;
.Coordinate across government and partner agencies if necessary, and unblock any obstacles to delivery;
.Assist MDAs to regularly report on progress on priority projects and make recommendations to the President on actions which need to be taken in order to unblock issues or speed up the priority projects implementation; and
.Develop a dashboard for providing information to the President on the implementation status of the priorities.
In addition, the PDU aims to build a centre of excellence at the heart of government in order to bring about a shift in the culture of the public service towards delivery. President Chakwera has emphasized that the PDU will not be usurping the coordination and implementing role and mandate of the MDAs but rather act as a support pillar for them so that they stay the course as they drive the President’s vision and agenda for a ‘New Malawi’.
The key day-to-day relationships for the PDU will be with counterparts at the relevant implementing MDAs. However, there will be important relationships within State House, central government ministries, and also external partners and the private sector. Within State House, the PDU will be directly responsible to the President for implementing his agenda, and as such will need to ensure regular briefings and updates on progress are given.
According to the Concept Note for the establishment of PDU, it aims to improve transparency, evidence-based decision-making, and coordination at the heart of government as a tool to drive the implementation of an ambitious agenda.
Through focussed attention on the implementation of a number of catalytic priority initiatives, the Chakwera administration would be able to unlock the growth conditions required to deliver on its development aspirations as detailed in Malawi 2063 (MW2063) to transform Malawi into a wealthy and self-reliant industrialized ‘upper-middle-income country’.
Malawi remains a heavily agriculture-dependent economy. Around 85 percent of the population are estimated to live in rural areas and rely on rain-fed agriculture for employment. 90 percent of rural households engage in subsistence farming, cultivating small and fragmented land held under uncertain customary tenure. As such, Malawi is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate-related events.
President Chakwera’s administration believes that agriculture-led industrialisation of the economy is critical to drive up growth and living standards. It is necessary to diversify the economy from subsistence farming and an over reliance on a small number of cash crops, in particular tobacco which is in long-term decline, in order to develop an economy that can create jobs and add-value in the country.
Since coming to power in 2020, President Chakwera has made a commitment to uphold good governance and democratic principles.
This commitment to break from the past has attracted praise from the international community, and a recognition that this is a critical juncture for the future of Malawi.
By harnessing the good will of the people, public servants, and the international community for reforms geared towards delivering for Malawians, the Chakwera administration aims at putting the economy on a higher growth path necessary to achieve a better standard of living for all, and meet its targets under the SDGs and Agenda 2063.
In order to seize this opportunity, in addition to these commitments the government, under President Chakwera, is embracing the willingness to do things differently and look at new ways of delivering for the people of Malawi. This, according to the Concept Note, will require navigating existing bureaucratic structures and a public service that may not currently be geared towards the delivery concept. The capabilities and the institutions will have to be built within the public service to effectively drive the agenda.
One such way of achieving this is to build a high-performing team at the heart of government with a sole focus on driving the agenda.
Several governments around the world have established delivery units at the centre of government to drive performance improvements. This development may be in addition to whole-of-government reforms to improve performance.
Such a unit will interface with the different Ministries and Agencies, and will be able to second talented staff from key ministries, with the aim of fostering a culture of performance and delivery across the public service.
Originating in the UK under Tony Blair’s Government in 2001 delivery units are small teams that work to drive the delivery of a leader’s vision.
By focussing on a limited number of core priorities, using relationships across government and the political authority of the leader, a delivery unit will performance manage the implementation of these priorities.
Through gathering and analysing a stream of performance data, and conducting regular stocktakes with implementing MDAs, delivery units can identify when priorities are off-track or delayed. By identifying issues and bottlenecks, they can bring resources to support MDAs to unblock obstacles by working across various stakeholders using the convening power of the head of government.
Through this process, delivery units help to build understanding and capability for strengthening systems and processes across government, building a culture of performance and evidence-based decisions.
Delivery units now support heads of government in many countries on the continent and around the world, with many more operating at local and regional levels.
An initial process has been undertaken to formulate a structured ‘delivery agenda’ around which the operations of the PDU can be built.
The agenda focussed on the core ‘driver’ of change being agriculture-led economic diversification, with three key ‘accelerators’ of infrastructure, human capital, and digitisation and governance.
This agenda will ultimately be matched with a corresponding results framework, specifying the expected outcomes in each of the key areas, with the overall impact being to bring about jobs, create wealth and provide food security.
Based on this framework, further prioritisation will take place in order to identify specific, high-impact, catalytic initiatives in each of the areas on which the PDU will then focus.
The draft delivery agenda has been developed through consultation with senior officials and where possible has links to broader government frameworks, as well as international goals such as United Nations Agenda 2030.
However, the delivery agenda should not be confused with ministry, sector or government-wide planning documents, which necessarily cover a broad range of priorities over longer time periods.
The delivery agenda is a subset of the national priorities set out in these documents, it aims to accelerate and catalyse key aspects over a shorter period of time whilst targeting the same overall vision.
The PDU aims to attract highly-skilled, and highly-motivated staff with a broad range of experience in the public, private and NGO sectors. It will be difficult to attract and retain such profiles on current civil service salaries, which is why this proposal budgets for salaries higher than the civil service equivalents.
However, the government is looking for a long-term partner to build up a capability in a way that can be sustainable following the end of any financial support.
Through building a high-performing team at the heart of government, which will have exposure to many different Ministries and Agencies, and seconding talented staff from key ministries to work in the PDU for a time before returning, the aim is to foster a culture of performance and delivery across the public service.