‘Adopt a hunter spirit now!’ — Part Two…unmasking the diploma disease


By Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki and Basil Nyabadza

GOVERNMENT is essentially a huge bureaucracy made up of many departments that are geared to execute various mandates as stipulated by various statutes.
Different departments are engaged at the primary, secondary or tertiary levels of economic activity.
Many play an oversight role as regulatory authorities.
Very few are truly hunter breeds.
One could say there is no demand for innovation in Government day-to-day business; civil servants follow laid down rules to process large volumes of administrative paperwork.
Any innovations must pass through the painstakingly slow bureaucratic processes of approval at various levels all the way to the top, which often is the Cabinet.
So the only hunting to talk about is speedy, efficient processing of reports and regulatory documents.
Those who come up with innovative ways of expediting business run into, and are slowed down by kilometers of, red tape — rules and regulations that must be followed strictly.
There is no room for discretion or cutting corners, even for a good cause.
The ‘one-stop shop’ concept, such as that proposed to quicken cross-border movements at Chirundu and Beitbridge, is a good example of quickening the pace of Government business. Perhaps the ‘hunters’ will be those who can devise innovative ways of cutting red tape.
That would serve the nation’s desire to improve the ease of doing business in terms of timely processing of client documents.
But one can argue that all these activities are ancillary and facilitatory to the truly ‘hunter-skinner-cook’ economic activities.
There are no ‘goods’ to be packaged and marketed for profit at the end of the month in a civil service department.
Instead, there are ‘services’, often already paid for by the taxpayer.
Even where the services can be quantified, the monitoring and evaluation are not tight enough to bring out quantifiable data which can readily be used to measure output.
Civil servants are assured of security of tenure, including remunerations and annual bonuses.
Hunting, skinning and cooking are skills that are not readily identified and rewarded.
Does this mean we do not need to apply the principles of the ‘hunter-skinner-cook’ theory of development to Government business?
How does the civil service fit into the ‘hunter-skinner-cook model of development?
Civil service personnel can, by the nature of their employment environment, be considered as low level hunters, skinners and cooks.
They are involved in processing and overseeing the activities that constitute Government business and bureaucracy.
Mediocre performance often does not invite immediate dire consequences as is the case in many private sector business situations.
Increased productivity does not bring immediate benefits for civil servants.
Habits characterised by laxity are slowly nurtured over time; the comfort zone increases.
This relaxed atmosphere is not conducive to the development of ‘hunter-skinner-cook’ instincts.
Most civil servants are content to fulfil the minimum requirements for their posts.
They have little or no appetite for innovation or hunting for new business.
Government employment and remuneration are guaranteed, even if service delivery is inefficient.
Education is supposed to be a key tool in developing hunters, skinners and cooks for the development of the country. However, a phenomenon best described as ‘the diploma disease’ is rapidly spreading among the so-called educated population of Zimbabwe.
While Zimbabwean blacks have always viewed education as the gateway out of poverty to prosperity (hunting tool), the zeal to acquire higher educational qualifications, now at fever pitch, has fueled many undesirable developments.
In high schools, learning has been replaced by memorisation of model answers to pass examination papers.
Even in science subjects, practical hands-on exercises are hardly done.
The high grades achieved, whether in the natural sciences or arts and humanities, reflect each student’s capacity for rote learning. Without the requisite knowledge and skills, how can these students graduate into the much-needed hunters, skinners and cooks?
Enrolments at universities have swelled, with some of the institutions relaxing entry requirements to lure students so as to increase revenues from tuition and other fees.
Cases of students who passed arts subjects being admitted to science programmes are many.
Is this an ugly twist to the ‘hunter-skinner-cook’ theory, where students (or rather their fees money) are now the hunted?
To put the matter into context, the desire by parents and students to acquire the degree qualification (the diploma disease) drives this frenzy that throws educational standards and ethics out of the window, allowing thousands of students to receive undergraduate degrees of questionable quality.
These graduates will contribute little in our quest for middle income status by 2030!
They have limited ‘hunter-skinner-cook’ skills and competencies!
In the business community, the frenzy to achieve the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree has also reached fever pitch!
Even a ‘green’ graduate with little or no experience in business is enrolling for MBA programmes.
The degree is ostensibly viewed as equipping graduates with ‘hunter-skinner-cook’ skills that are deployed to lead the company to greater business efficiency and profitability.
But does evidence on the ground support this expectation?
The ‘diploma disease’ concept describes a phenomenon where professionals are consumed by an overwhelming desire to obtain higher academic qualifications so as to ascend to top executive positions.
They then demand higher salaries and perks such as fuel-guzzling eight-cylinder monster vehicles that would look out of place today, even in countries now ranked as upper medium-income economies.
Many industrial firms and Government departments are now led by senior managers brandishing MBA and doctorate (PhD) degrees, some of dubious origin.
These MBA executives gobble up huge chunks of company revenues (huge salaries, expensive cars, holiday allowances) totally out of proportion to their inputs, thereby threatening or even sinking the organisations that they purport to lead to prosperity.
Can these executives be considered to be assets or liabilities to their organisations?
They spend over 60 percent of their official work time on social media, with the balance going to politics and a smaller proportion to the company’s business.
These are not hunters; they are not even skinners and cooks! Instead of contributing to the achievement of Vision 2030, many so-called company executives actually act as albatrosses round the necks of their organisations, pulling the proverbial sailor (their companies) to the bottom of the sea!
In the new dispensation, as we strive to attain Vision 2030, we must constantly scan for hunters, skinners and cooks in the various enterprises that make up our economy.
They are the principal actors who make up a functional value chain.


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