SPEECH BY THE GUEST OF HONOUR, DR THOMAS CHATAGHALALA MUNTHALI, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE NATIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION (NPC), AT THE 6TH CONGREGATION CEREMONY OF PENTECOSTAL LIFE UNIVERSITY BINGU INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE, LILONGWE, TUESDAY 25TH MAY, 2021
Mr. Chancellor, I am greatly honoured to be part of this 6th University Congregation of Pentecostal Life University (PLU) being held at this auspicious facility. It is also a great honour for me to address the Congregation especially the graduands who am sure have undergone rigorous training over the past few years. It is also an honour to me as the occasion brings me great memories of my own road to where I am today. I say thank you for inviting me.
I have been well appraised on how the University has delivered over the years and the significant contributions it has made to the nation. I am happy to hear that the graduates from this University are playing key roles in both Government and the Private sector.
Mr Chancellor Sir, I am also very pleased to hear that the University undertook a tracer study which has provided useful information on how the students are performing in industry, and also their perception of the University programmes. This is very important as it helps the University in the review process of its programmes and also to ensure that standards are improved at all times.
Distinguished guests, today we witness the 6th graduation event and I am informed that there are 430 students graduating. When one looks back to the past five Congregations, we continue to see the tremendous progress that the University is making every year. Looking back, the first Congregation had 115 students; the second had 165 students; the third had 254 students; the fourth had 350 students; the fifth had 408 students and this congregation has a total of 430 students.
These numbers are a clear testimony of very good progress and a clear testimony of the confidence that the labour market and parents are having in the PLU. I would hence like to commend the Chancellor, University Council, Management and Staff of PLU for the hard work and clear vision.
Distinguished guests, I am also happy to hear that the University’s theme for this occasion is ‘‘we shall soar high like an eagle for we have finished the race’’. This is a great theme couched on faith as it expresses the aspirations of the founder and management in the envisaged outcomes of their students.
I would want to suggest though to the graduands that soaring high indeed you must, but you have not reached the end of the race yet. In fact, you just have started a new journey – that is why this event is called a commencement event.
In 2001, coming from a very poor background, I got my first degree. In my family, wearing a shoe was strictly for school or church. I failed to be a basketball player because I never had a snicker. One thing to my credit was that I was so engaged in student politics and professional growth while at the University. Not only was I a student union leader but I also became president of the student’s economics association.
This had helped to connect me to a number of influential people at the University, in Government and private sector. So beyond graduating with just an academic degree in 2001, my student leadership at the University also capacitated me with good communication skills, confidence, team work, networking, and being organised. As you would have expected, therefore, upon graduation, I was so confident I would immediately find a job. I wish I had known better how the world works.
I jumped from one office to another and applying for all jobs that had ‘economist’ in it. Then I decided to go broad and go for anything that needed a first degree, to no avail. Then I decided to apply to even those that required diploma as minimum level.
And later, I was applying for anything that would take me off from home, still nothing came up. Eventually, I decided I will just have to literally walk into offices and secondary schools asking for a job in pure desperation. Finally, after 6 months, I got a very low-paying teaching job in some private school but it was not long before I was laid off because I kept on coming late since I would mostly be in town looking for other job opportunities.
After a long while, I landed myself a job as an economist in Government after one senior official I met when I was president of the students’ economics association, alerted me to the opportunity. I then, following Ecclesiastes 9 vs 10, vowed that whatever my hands finds to do, I would do it with all my might – ulova utandikhaulitsa, I had known the value of having a job. I proceeded to do my Masters degree in England after a couple of years with Government and was fortunate enough to be awarded a PhD straight after finishing my Masters degree.
In my PhD, following my Eccl. 9 vs 10 principle, I got to be voted with the best doctoral thesis. Upon completion, I became president not just of a student’s economics association but the entire Economics Association of Malawi and proceeded to work with the World Bank, United Nations, and a capacity building arm of the African Union before coming back home to become the first director general of the National Planning Commission (NPC).
Dear graduating students, I did not mean to bore you with my life story. But to give you inspiration that when you are determined, regardless of your background, you will succeed in life so long you always maintain a positive attitude and never lose hope. Even those of you who come from privileged families, know that education is your best parent. Your parents’ riches are theirs and so work towards your own economic independence. As mortal beings, they will not be there for ever.
Know also that academic papers alone are not enough, but you need to add other employability skills like leadership, communicating well, networking and more education to add more value to yourselves because the world is becoming more competitive each passing day. And whenever you are given an opportunity to speak or lead or take part in any event, grab the opportunity and display the best of yourself and your talents. These value adding elements will come back handy for you one day. It is what will distinguish you from the rest because you will all have gotten the same academic degree today.
I am glad to note that the programmes at Pentecostal Life University are tailored towards students acquiring employability skills, but importantly making them create employment through entrepreneurship. I am reliably informed that the University also encourages students to venture into business by putting into practice what they learn. The slogan of ‘‘One graduate one Business’’ can go a long way to creating employment and contribute to the economic well-being of our nation.
Talking about our nation. As a country, we have just launched last January our new vision, the Malawi 2063. It is a clear vision that reflects the aspirations of us all as Malawians. It envisages an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant nation which primarily finances its own needs at household, community, national levels without looking up to the good-will of others.
The Vision is to be realised by focusing on three pillars: agricultural productivity and commercialisation; industrialisation with mining as an important integral; and urbanisation that includes tourism hubs. However, this will need some enablers to be realised, top of which is mindset change. As a nation, we need to think more of creating wealth and jobs for others.
We should hence be keen on coming up with bankable business ideas beyond just thinking of being employed. A salary never made anyone wealthy, it is entrepreneurship that does. Beyond looking up to Government for jobs and loans, learn the art of building capital through partnerships.
In meeting our Malawi 2063 vision, you are the greatest source of wealth. That’s why the Vision emphases on page 35, that developing human capital will play a pivotal role in the transformation of our economy. I urge you all to find a copy of the Vision on the NPC website and read it as you would with the Bible.
Currently, a majority of the youth do not have the requisite skills or financial capabilities to support the development agenda of the country. With the capacity of our citizenry developed, we will fully harness our resource potential and expeditiously achieve the agriculture productivity and commercialization, industrialization and urbanization agenda.
The thrust of any economy is its educated people as they are the ones that design programmes, implement strategies and create innovations. Human capital is the “conductor of an orchestra” directing how other resources are put into productive use to attain desired outcomes.
I hence wish to sincerely congratulate private universities such as PLU that are playing a commendable role in creating the human capital that is fit-for-purpose in meeting our country’s Vision. Mr Chancellor, the Commission stands ready to fully support PLU and indeed all universities (private and public) in ensuring that their programmes align to the country’s Vision pillars and enablers so that we can meet the aspirations sooner than 2063.
May I hasten to add that the country still lags so much in its human capital development capacities and so we need to find innovative ways of producing enmasse the needed quantities while minding the quality. This will require innovation and investments in open and distance e-learning (ODEL).
In modern times, we can no longer just rely on brick and mortar – this is what will distinguish the surviving universities to those that will fold-up due to lack of innovation. Just as the labour market is competitive for the graduands, so is the business market for universities.
To the graduands, am so happy for you. Graduation ceremony is one of the most memorable events in anyone’s life. This is a happy occasion because you are being rewarded for your hard work and the completion of your studies. This is also a proud moment for parents and guardians because their dreams of giving their sons and daughters education have finally come to fruition and I would like to say ‘‘to God be the Glory.’’
To all of you graduands, this University is your alma mater and so be its admirable ambassadors. The reputation and respect that PLU will get in the labour and business market, pretty much depends on you.
Mr Chancellor, this being a faith-based University, I may be detained if I don’t finish with a Bible verse that I have always found so encouraging in my academic and professional journey: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29:11.
So if you as graduands can forget anything that I have said today, please just remember this verse.
Mr Chancellor and PLU management, once again, thank you for inviting me to grace this auspicious occasion.