Many social ills continue to wreck havoc in this our motherland. Somehow, bolts and nuts seem to be getting loose in almost every machinery running the affairs of this country. And it is not like it suddenly starts at the top, no. It all starts from the bottom, with us individuals. And, eventually, our mess culminates into chaos at the top. And then we start noticing. And then we start calling people and systems by appropriate names. We often overlook our very contribution to the rotten status quo.
As has been said now and again, what we see in our political leaders is simply a reflection of what we are as a people. And I totally agree with Tiunike Online's article on education in our Parliament, which emphasizes the general electorate's role in spurring the mediocrity we see of our representatives. If we are not littering the streets as we drive, we are running the red light. Or parking carelessly and selfishly. If we are not partaking in get-rich-quick schemes, we are pulling each other down or raping the laws. Not literally. And if we are not jumping the queue, we are providing lackluster services to clients.
The thread that weaves our social fabric is of questionable quality. The one that binds us one with morality courts with hypocrisy. It is hard to pinpoint an event or time when things went wrong. They are too many. Everywhere. Intolerance among each other is waning and is leaving little room for accommodation, slowly eating away the ties that bind society together. How does one explain the obstinate motorist who blocks the junction when leaving some room would let traffic flow fluidly, with the likely effect of letting everyone go sooner? And their face is present, unconcerned and unbothered.
The other day, traffic came to a standstill at the Bwandilo traffic lights. The traffic on the Kamuzu Procession Road (a.k.a. M1) towards the Area 18 roundabout was moving at a snail's pace, not because it was peak hour, but mainly because of our influential traffic cops at the Paul Kagame Road junction – where there are traffic lights too. You know how officers of the law sometimes bring chaos in our already chaotic situation. There are times the only reason that there is traffic jam is because they are ill managing traffic. The situation is even more chaotic now that they station themselves at roundabouts. Not to incite they are useless, but there are times that traffic moves faster and more orderly when they grace us with their absence. But with car numbers that keep multiplying rapidly (you would think we have a recycling vehicle plant), they surely could do better.
And so coming from the other direction, we took the middle lane to branch into Area 47. The traffic lights were working alright but then there was no movement of oncoming traffic. One normally expects the cars right by the junction to give way to those branching into or emerging from feeder roads. But, somehow, this excites unsolicited competition, blocking the passage as if to prevent being outdone by oncoming traffic. Luckily, and rarely, there is always one with functional common sense. On this day, however, it had to be a truck...several metres long. With the jammed traffic, it temporarily blocked the passage and was parked across the Bwandilo junction. No car had the sniff to flinch as the traffic lights danced green, amber and red. The truck driver was completely unconcerned. All I could do with my wandering mind was to search for whom to blame for his selfishness – his parents, teachers, even pastors or sheiks - I must admit, they all roamed through my mind, together with the usual victims in my life, politicians.
So, when one connects the dots that bind our society, our lives are evidently dysfunctional at every level. One concludes that our rapidly degrading culture is going to be all responsible for giving us what we deserve, what happens to us as a people. Our habits are shaping who we are becoming, percolating all aspects of life. Including those that should not associate with extending half measures. The consequences affect our conduct, repel those that can make a change, and investors that are seeking somewhere to do business. Which brings me to the services from our banks. No wonder, of late, banks have become a hot topic for an exceptional service that characterizes the irony of them doing you a favour.
Sometime last year, I lost my Auto-Teller Machine (ATM) card and I immediately instructed my bank to block it for fear someone would wipe me clean of the few tambalas in my account. I found it a few days later under a car seat but I never bothered to have it immediately unblocked. I transacted electronically or physically, but not at the branch where my account was held as it was far from where I transact much of my affairs. Two weeks ago, I decided I needed to make life easier for myself and have the card unblocked. Luckily for me, it was a short process. After form-filling, spending less than 20 minutes, I was told I was good to go. While the process to unblock the card only takes less than an hour, I was safe to try it by the end of the day, they said. This was morning.
Instead of trying the card at the end of that day, I went to the ATM two days later. And guess what? The card got captured. This was a Saturday, when banks only open for a few morning hours. I badly needed the money. Yes, this was morning alright but this ATM was at some shopping mall, which meant I had to wait until Monday to have it back. I had no idea what had gone wrong. Did I punch in the wrong pin? Or was the machine faulty, as I seriously did not see anyone leave with money?
I did not go to the bank on Monday. I went on Thursday, a week and a day after my earlier visit to have the card unblocked. I met the same “gentleman” who did assist me on my earlier visit. I had already rehearsed my answer just in case it was because a wrong pin happened. After explaining, and answering on which ATM captured my card, a call was made inquiring about the status of my case. I did not hear the person on the other side, but seconds later I was handed back my "captured" card and told to try it after five minutes. I just could not believe what I was hearing. As it transpired, a week and a day later, nothing had been done on my unblocking request.
And there was a time when a different bank asked me to bring all documents that I had brought when initially processing the opening of my account because they had filed the documents away. How was that my problem? Do they file them away at the Reserve Bank? And even if they were to file the documents at the Reserve Bank branch in Mzuzu, was the onus not on them to make copies for keeps?
Where is the super efficiency that the private sector is touted for? I am someone who never takes such nonsense as how the card unblocking went calmly but on this day, I was numbed. I had no courage to let loose a word. I sat there in silence. I had to pinch myself to make sure that I was not dreaming. What if I had travelled to Ntcheu or Mangochi and desperately needed money? I received neither an apology for the inconvenience nor did regret register on the banker's face. What happened to customer care in this part of the world? We all rise quickly when a government department performs inefficiently and inconsiderately. You would think our private sector spews out German efficiency in their standard service. Now these kind of experiences make one question the excitement with which the news of public sector reforms was received especially by the private sector. Trust me, there are other government departments that perform better than these holier than thou private sector wanna be's even before the reforms were introduced.
Admittedly, the number of digits in my account have never been quite an impressive sight. But are we not taught to treat a janitor the same way we would treat a chief executive? Is it not that same governing rule in customer care? Seriously, was I not entitled to an explanation for my blocked card situation? And an apology, no matter how insincere, would have gone a long, long way. We need to be frank with ourselves if we restrict reforms to the public sector only, as we are blinding ourselves to harbouring ambitions for a bright future as a country. The culture embedded with attitudes that lack respect and care for clientele will weigh heavily on our country's prospects for not just conducting government business, but also how we will perform market transactions, let alone attract foreign direct investment.
The efficiency deficiency is so commonplace that reforms are needed everywhere. And if we are to yield good results with the reforms, either in the public or private sector, it is only important that we first reform ourselves as individuals. It seems to me that a change of attitude – others call it mentality – will be one of the most critical factors for change that will oil the performance of all sectors of our country. As reformed individuals, our performance at every level of transaction will manifest in more positive and efficient outcomes on our roads, bank queues, government service departments, in shops, in the village SACCO meetings, and so on. Only then would our rants about better reforms elsewhere be justifiable. We need to reform ourselves for a collegial society and for the ultimate good of the nation.
So...I stayed in the bank as I counted the minutes. After 5 minutes, I went outside to the ATM and, guess what, the card worked. Ever heard of delayed efficiency?